It has been painful to watch the downfall of the actor Jussie Smollett.
By now, you are familiar with his story. In January he claimed to have been attacked by two Trump supporters on a cold night in Chicago. Smollett, who is gay and black, recounted that they shouted “This is MAGA country,” roughed him up, called him racial and homophobic slurs and put a noose around his neck.
But according to Chicago police, it was all a hoax. The actor practiced and staged the charade and paid two co-conspirators — Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo — to carry out the attack, authorities say, because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the show “Empire,” for which he has a starring role. In the immediate aftermath of Smollett’s claim, we wrote about the unique challenge of being black and gay, and how that identity can make one feel especially vulnerable. “Jussie is us. That could’ve been any of us,” said a friend of my colleague Pierre-Antoine Louis.
A few of you wrote in to say that Smollett’s story sounded fishy from the very beginning and that it was too soon to jump to conclusions. That, as we have learned, was absolutely right. But it is also true that hate crimes have been on the rise for three years, and that three out of five hate crimes in 2017 were motivated by race.
Once the news broke that the reported attack may have been orchestrated by Smollett, Pierre said he felt “embarrassed” and was worried that people would question his own experience. But he added: “Just because there’s one false report doesn’t mean that the issues we face daily aren’t real.”
False reports of hate crimes are extremely rare — less than 1 percent of those reported, according to some studies — but they tend to draw attention, making it easier for people to denounce them as identity politics run amok, or simply what happens when we treat victimhood as currency.
Smollett was arrested on a felony charge Thursday, and his legal team has denied the claims made by the police. “He wants nothing more than to clear his name,” said Jack Prior, one of Smollett’s lawyers.
Eddie T. Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, was visibly upset during a news conference about Smollett. He said the actor had taken advantage of the pain and anger of racism, draining resources that could have been used to investigate crimes for which people were actually suffering.
“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said.
I do too.