Empire star Jussie Smollett faked a racist, homophobic attack on himself last month because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity, Chicago police say.
The actor turned himself into authorities overnight and is now under arrest. Soon to face court under suspicion of filing a false police report, he faces years in prison.
The millions of people whose hearts broke for Smollett have been left feeling angry and cheated, with some of his high-profile former supporters speaking out.
Many are furious that the hoax will likely make people who are legitimately the victim of hate crimes afraid to speak out – for fear of being accused of making it up.
CNN anchor Don Lemon, who said he had been texting Smollett daily since the alleged incident – in which he claimed to have been beaten by two Trump-supporting men who put a noose around his neck – was incredulous on his nightly program.
“We shouldn’t forget innocent until proven guilty,” says CNN’s @donlemon. “But like I said, a lot of this doesn’t add up. And if Jussie’s story isn’t true, he squandered the goodwill of a whole lot of people.” https://t.co/98jPzkG4u1 pic.twitter.com/spE9ATKl0M
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) February 21, 2019
“We shouldn’t forget innocent until proven guilty, of course, innocent until proven guilty,” Lemon said, “but like I said, a lot of this just doesn’t add up. If Jussie’s story isn’t true, he squandered the goodwill of a whole lot of people. He even lied to a lot of people – if it’s not true – including me, and that’s not cool.”
Director Tyler Perry was equally as gutted and hurt.
“I’m lost for words,” he said. “To stoke fears and raise racial tensions is wrong in every situation.”
Nobody is more infuriated, however, than the Chicago police department, who invested precious time and resources trying to solve what was in the end a hoax.
“Before I get started on why we’re here,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at a press conference after Smollett’s arrest, “as I look out into the crowd, I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention. Because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’re giving to this particular incident.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson: “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention, because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’re giving to this particular incident.” https://t.co/5AiMcfe6iH pic.twitter.com/Xy5yYUTTJg
— ABC News (@ABC) February 21, 2019
Clearly incredulous, Johnson asked at one point during the conference:
“Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?
“Bogus police reports cause real harm,” Johnson added. “They do harm to every legitimate victim who’s in need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of this city … I’m offended by what’s happened, and I’m also angry. This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.”
As for why Smollett decided to, as Lemon put it, “squander goodwill,” police allege he wanted Fox to pay him more money for his role on Empire, which he hoped would happen as the result of an increased profile from the attack. But with reports suggesting he earns around US$65,000 per episode, surely the reason isn’t purely financial?
We’re certainly not the only ones wanting answers. As CNN’s Don Lemon put it:
“There were questions about Jussie’s story from the very beginning, questions he still needs to answer. Innocent until proven guilty, but a whole lot of people want to hear from him.
“What happened, Jussie?”