The Intersection Many Missed in Smollett’s Case

In this age of intersectionality in social justice movements, it’s clear that Jussie Smollet’s case has lacked true intersectional understanding in the period since the Chicago Police Department made their accusations against him.

It has been telling to witness how many people, activists and media alike, took the CPD’s statements as truth and turned on Smollett.

Smollett grew up in a family that has close ties to Angela Davis and the Black Panther Party and has been an activist and artist since his childhood.  He has been outspoken about many of President’s Trump’s policies, and taught songwriting in Illinois prisons.  He is a Black Gay artist who speaks out.

The Chicago Police Department, on the other hand, has a long history to indicate its statements should not be trusted automatically.  From the murder of Fred Hampton, to numerous inexcusable murders of young Black men caught on film which police officers initially lied about, to the fact that they can’t seem to figure out how to do anything to lessen the rate by which Black children are murdering each other in the streets of the city, their history shows an ongoing issue with honesty, capability, and transparency that not been rectified.

Yet, when they came out with their version of what happened in Smollett’s case, people responded like the truth had been revealed.  This, despite the consciousness that Black Lives Matters has raised in recent years.  This, despite the unconvincing evidence CPD has released.  This, simply because they are the authority speaking the truth, and a Black man facing that is muted until completely slandered, innocent or not.  Many in the Black community also turned on Smollett quickly, and his employer cut him from the last episodes of the season, demonstrating the ingrained nature of America’s deference to authority, whether that authority has a history of corruption or not.

The Evidence Is Not Convincing

The evidence the CPD have presented in the case hinge on the words of two brothers.  Chicago news stations released footage showing the brothers buying ski masks, which are common in Chicago winters, and a red hat, which Smollett never stated the attackers were wearing.  The police say they also have video evidence of the brothers leaving the scene, getting in a cab, text messages detailing the plans of a staged attack, etc, none of which has not been publicly shown.  All that has been released is a grainy photo of two people who are impossible to identify.  It’s not even clear in the photo if the people are wearing ski masks, though neither appears to be wearing a baseball hat.  The fact that bleach was found in the brother’s home was reported as damning evidence.

CPD’s story has changed.  Initially they said they considered Smollett a victim.  “Superintendent Eddie Johnson, said during an appearance on WLS-TV that…Smollett has been ‘very cooperative and we have no reason at this point to think he’s not being genuine with us.'”  But after deciding to prosecute him, “Chicago’s police chief said they were suspicious when ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett first told detectives that two masked men taunted him with racist and homophobic slurs before beating him and looping a noose around his neck. ‘From the very beginning we had some questions about it,’ Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.”

This is damning testimony.  How can police accurately investigate a case they do not believe?

What is particularly absurd about the CPD’s case against Smollett is the motive they say they have discovered: that Smollett wanted more money for his work on Empire, something denied by both Smollett and Empire.  There is no evidence for this whatsoever, yet CPD speaks as though they have read Smollett’s mind and ascertained his true nature.  In fact they said, “When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off.”  The truth is they did not ‘discover’ the ‘actual’ motive.

In fact, if CPD’s accusations are correct and Smollett made up this attack for attention, why was it his 60 year old friend who called the police and convinced him to file a police report in the first place?

The police say they have evidence but they have not shown it publicly.  Therefore, innocent until proven guilty must stand.  Not innocent until the police say you’re guilty, or innocent until the media says you are, because then a huge portion of the country will never get justice.  Railroading someone into prison is not a hard thing to do.

Intersectionality Means Understanding Nuance

Though many have called the evidence CPD presented as “overwhelming,” this brings us to the deeper part of the intersection that many are missing and which needs to be kept in mind – the history of dirty tactics in the prosecution of Black men.

Initially the Osundairo’s lawyer said “they’re all very cordial with each other, so they’re baffled why they are people of interest.”  However, “at hour 47 – one hour before police had to either charge the men or release them – Johnson said the two confessed to what they had done. They were subsequently released without being charged.”  This seems strange.

If you’re not familiar with how Black men are prosecuted in this country, it can feel like wading into a muck of poison to hear even snippets of it.  This is a country where Black men clearly have an unwanted intimacy with the criminal justice system and where the majority of federal cases don’t even go to trial – “Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas.”  Instead, people plead guilty en masse to get a lesser sentence.  The implications here are enormous.

This is a country where ‘snitching’ – as it is well-known in the Black community – can get you reduced time.  There is an organized though quiet official system where giving accurate or inaccurate information about your peers can get years shaved off your sentence, or no sentence at all, among other perks.  In such a system, where ‘testimony’ holds such deep weight, the problem is obvious.

“Snitching has become so commonplace that in the past five years at least 48,895 federal convicts — one of every eight — had their prison sentences reduced in exchange for helping government investigators, a USA TODAY examination of hundreds of thousands of court cases found.”

This is not written to accuse the police of anything in particular, to say that the Osundairo’s testimony is inaccurate, or to say that Smollett is absolutely innocent.  But innocent until proven guilty is a basic standard that must be adhered to.  Otherwise, confusion and abuse of power will reign and people will continue to be easily manipulated in countless ways.