Trial set to begin on Smollett’s bogus racial assault charges
Chicago A famous actor steps into the street and brutally reminds him that despite his fame and fortune, there are places where the color of his skin and his sexual orientation endanger him.
That was the story that bounced around the world after Jussie Smollett, a black and openly gay actress, reported to Chicago police that he was the victim of a hate crime.
Nearly three years later, Smollett was about to appear in court on the accusation that he orchestrated the whole thing.
He was charged with felony disorderly conduct after law enforcement and prosecutors said he lied to police about what happened in the early hours of the morning of January 29, 2019 in downtown Chicago. He has pleaded not guilty. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday. Disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree felony, carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts said it is likely that if Smollett is found guilty, he will be placed on probation and may be required to perform community service.
Smollett told police he was on his way home from a Subway sandwich shop at 2 a.m. when two men he said he recognized from the TV show Empire began hurling racist and homophobic insults at him. He said the men beat him, wrapped a noose around his neck and shouted, “THIS IS MAGA NATION,” referring to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan at the time, “Make America Great Again.”
The reaction to his reported assault has highlighted an increasingly polarized political landscape. Democratic politicians and others have called it a shocking example of Trump-era bigotry and hate, while Republicans have accused liberals of rushing to portray the president’s supporters as racists.
Just weeks later, came the stunning announcement that Smollett had been accused of launching an attack to boost his career and earn a higher salary. Police said he hired two brothers from Nigeria to pretend to attack him for $3,500.
This made Smollett shine a brighter light, but this time his reputation was tarnished as someone willing to use one of the most powerful symbols of racism in the United States to advance his career.
“The most despicable and despicable part, if true, is the stifling,” Judge John Fitzgerald Lake Jr., a Black, said during Smollett’s first court appearance. “This symbol evokes such evil in the history of this country.”
Smollett has also become a national punch line. He was the subject of the sitcom “Saturday Night Live” and a host of black celebrities, from NBA analyst Charles Barkley to comedian Dave Chappelle, took turns making fun of him.
Then came the fury that Smollett’s fame had given an effect that was elusive to most people. Reports indicated that Cook County attorney Kim Fox, at the request of former First Lady Chief of Staff Michelle Obama, contacted a Smollett family member early in the investigation. Fox stepped down from the case and then her office suddenly dropped the charges, Fox found herself in the middle of a media storm as she refuted the suggestion that her office had given the TV star a respite.
All of this paved the way for what turned a simple question of Smollett’s innocence or guilt into a complex legal saga that continued for nearly three years.
The trial was delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has halted cases across the country for several months. But also, charges were brought, dropped, and filed again by the special prosecutor who was brought in to take up the case.
Smollett – whose career has since fizzled out – will return this week to the glare of the media spotlight, but this time as he passes through the woods of news cameras as he makes his way to and from the stadium.
The producers of Empire, in which he starred for four years, renewed his contract for the sixth and final season in 2019, but he did not appear in a single episode. He also did not release any music or give significant musical performances.
However, he has directed an independent film, funded by his production company, which premieres at the American Black Film Festival this month. “B-Boy Blues” is based on the 1994 novel, the first in a series, about the lives of gay black men in New York.
But once it gets to court, what happens is what might sound like a bad movie for the simple reason that the short is exactly what the authorities have long been trying to create.
The main witnesses will be brothers Abimbola and Olabingo Osondaero, who say Smollett wrote them a check to carry out the attack. They are expected to describe Smollett as the star and director of an “attack” in full view of a surveillance camera that he mistakenly believed would record the entire event.
According to their attorneys, the brothers will also describe how Smollett drove them to the place where the accident was scheduled to perform “rehearsal.”
“He was telling them ‘Here’s a camera, there’s a camera and here’s where you’re going to run,'” their attorney Gloria Rodriguez said.
Andrew Dalton, Associated Press reporter, contributed from Los Angeles.
Check out AP’s full coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.
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