The Chicago Police department calls a survivor of violence a ‘liar’ and the world agrees? Nah. Whether we look at it logically, legally, or historically, there’s much more to the story than that.
I had never heard of Jussie Smollett before the attack and media coverage. I don’t watch TV and had never watched Empire, but something seemed off in the way the story developed so I started investigating. Though it may seem to be merely the story of one celebrity, easily-dismissed, it is a precedent-setting situation – and the attempted precedent is extremely dangerous.
It must be remembered that Jussie did not want to call the police after he was attacked by two people yelling racial and homophobic slurs. His 60-year-old friend called 911 and convinced him to file a police report. This is written on the police report.
What kind of officer arrived? The three detectives on the police report – Kim Murray and Vincent Cecchin, and their supervisor, Joseph Considine – have 35 criminal allegations on their records from Chicago civilians. This data can be found in the Citizens Police Data Project created by the Invisible Institute who sued the city of Chicago to “reveal in-depth information on the complaint histories of selected Chicago police officers.”
It would be helpful to look at the conduct history of all the detectives who allegedly joined the investigation in the following days.
Within weeks, a huge scandal erupted. Chicago police talked about an ongoing investigation in unprecedented ways then charged Jussie with lying. Criminalizing the reporting of a hate crime by charging the reporter with ‘lying’ and 16 felonies is an extremely dangerous thing to allow in this country during these times.
A Question of Character
The allegations against the three detectives include false arrests, criminal sexual assault, searching without a warrant, verbal abuse, a domestic incident, drug/alcohol abuse, use of force, neglect of duty, and allegations regarding personal property in prison, among others.
The civilians who reported the allegations are diverse: Black women, Hispanic women, White women, Black men, etc. Only two of the allegations resulted in discipline. Murray was given a 10 day suspension for driving under the influence while off duty. Notably, she was also accused of verbally abusing a Black man regarding his sexual orientation in 2008.
The other disciplined allegation was for Considine, the supervising investigator listed on Jussie’s police report. The first complaint of Considine’s career was for criminal sexual assault, but this was not the one that resulted in discipline. Instead, he was suspended for three days for neglect of duty. Considine’s complaints paint a harsh picture: he allegedly commits crimes in groups with officers who also have many civilian complaints. One of these officers had 30 people go to the police department to file a complaint against him – yet nothing was done. That officer now works as a ‘forensic services evidence technician’ with a colleague who has 34 complaints, and another who has 37 complaints.
Many Chicago officers have no civilian allegations, but those who have them tend to have a lot. Murray and Considine more civilian allegations than 79% of their peers.
Jussie speaks, sings, and protests against police lawlessness and brutality and filed a police report reluctantly after being attacked. The detectives have extremely troubling backgrounds which have been overlooked. Much of the public simply took the police at their word before the trial had even begun and, like watching a TV cop show, consumed a wool-over-eyes view of Jussie’s case.
Jussie’s voice has been muted and conspicuously absent recently. However, his artistic body of work paints a clear picture. He’s often used his platform to give voice to the struggles of people and to authentic history. He said, “Whether you’re talking to two people or 2 million people, you can change the world by being you. But if millions of people are listening, shouldn’t you speak on the subjects that make the world a little bit better?”
This is a man who dressed up as an elf in 2018 to help throw a Christmas party for kids in Flint, and then on Christmas day bought out three movie theaters so people could watch the James Baldwin movie If Beale Street Could Talk for free. This voice was muted when CPD gave their version of reality, that he – a Black man – LGBTQ – was ‘a liar.’ The deeper reality, as he sang in a song he wrote, is much deeper: “Change comes when all take a stand. Stand up.”
Believing survivors is a reoccurring topic – an important one.
If You Don’t Clean Your House You’ll Have a Dirty House
The Chicago police force is definitely no stranger to scandal and corruption. Two former detectives won $2 million for a whistleblower lawsuit after being retaliated against for trying to expose extensive CPD drug trade corruption and stealing of citizens’ money. 63 people – and counting – have been exonerated in the last few years because they were falsely arrested by corrupt officers.
Only 7% of allegations result in discipline, such as the three-day suspension Consindine received. Civilian allegations take months or years for a ruling, during which the officer is still on the streets.
Youth on the South Side of Chicago spoke with the Mandel Clinic and Invisible Institute about their encounters with the police, describing officers’ routine abuse of power, cruelty, and lawlessness. These young people described their relationship with CPD, saying, “they’re over you, you’re under them, therefore you don’t matter. Their word will prevail over yours,” and that the constant police misconduct “makes you feel less of a person.” One young man said, “I have no idea what they could be capable of if they could be that disrespectful and assume I’m a criminal when I’m just one boy walking down the street.”
Many of the youth wouldn’t call the police, saying, “nobody really wants to put their trust in somebody’s hands who they can’t trust” and “now I realize there are some bad cops and when I call, what’s gonna come, a good cop or a bad cop? Are they gonna be effective, do their job, ask questions, investigate, or criminalize and penalize me before even knowing me?” Because of the entrenched nature of the police abuse they experience, many youth could not imagine the situation changing.
Communities living under the reign of lawless police tend to live in neighborhoods where drugs and guns flow freely, where murder is common, where constant crime drives the majority inside to watch TV. To grow up feeling “less of a person” in a suspiciously lawless environment is a catastrophe of enormous proportions. Forced to deal with constant trauma, then slandered and ignored, the multi-generational pain of these communities is a colossal crime. But who will stand trial for that?
Instead of accusing Jussie of corruption and lying, calling him “shameful,” and stacking up ‘evidence’ that falls like a house of cards, the Chicago police department would better uphold their responsibilities by heeding a call that has been made for generations – to correct themselves and clean up their own house.
The Media Spun the Case
The mass media’s coverage of the case consists mostly of repeating CPD’s statements and is a grave disservice to the country. Many initially felt compassion for Jussie, but it turned quickly to scorn, hatred, and aversion when his story was told through the perspective of the Chicago police and mass media. This is incredibly telling and should be a warning sign for everyone.
The Osundairo brothers’ story changed many times, but the media is not making this clear. The Osundairo’s lawyer, initially “said her clients are adamant they had nothing to do with the alleged attack on Smollett. ‘They are baffled about why they are people of interest… It’s an awful thing that happened to Jussie, but it’s not my guys.'” Then, “at hour 47 – one hour before police had to either charge the men or release them – [CPD Superintendent] Johnson said the two confessed to what they had done. They were subsequently released without being charged.”
Recently, “when asked directly, she would not confirm that Smollett asked her clients to stage the attack or if they agreed to do it. Instead Schmidt praised her clients’ cooperation with Chicago police.” The public is not allowed to know if the brothers received a deal in return for their statements against Jussie.
Jussie did not want to report the attack to the police. The reason for this is now obvious. His story never changed, and he maintains his innocence to the accusations CPD made after he reported a crime to them. He maintains his innocence despite a mass media lynching and police misconduct, scorn and mockery, leaked lies and 47th hour confessions, despite the absurdity that, in a city where police are not disciplined at all for serious crimes, he has been charged with 16 felony counts for ‘lying.’
Many who understand this story beyond the media version are witnessing a man who reflects our ability to face and transform the sickness in this country, someone who has often spoken about the need for more love in the world. He sings with Alicia Keys in a song he wrote, “There’s so much strength in you and me. Powerful, a breath away from victory. I matter, you matter, we matter. …Every shade was beautifully made.”
He may not wear a uniform, but his words are no less important.