Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Cook County Attorney Kim Foxx got it right and wrong. She blasted the Jussie Smollett prosecution for wasting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on what by any legal standard was a relatively trivial case. She lambasted vindictive police and prosecutors for their relentless and non-stop determination to nail Smollett no matter what. There’s truth to this.
There’s also truth to her charge that dozens of Blacks have been gunned down in Chicago’s decade long murder violence spree with nothing like the time and effort expended to put their killers behind bars as was the case with Smollett. This is a finger-point at the galling racial double standard that Black lives are cheap especially when the killers are other Blacks. But when a Black offender commits a crime in which there is even the faintest hint that it challenges or embarrasses the white criminal justice system then no time effort or expense is too much to slap a lengthy sentence on the Black violator.
Foxx, though, got it wrong in her implication that Smollett’s case has little real meaning in the larger legal and social scheme of things. I warned from the moment Smollett made the claim of being the victim of a hate crime that it was almost certainly a hoax. The circumstances just sounded phony as heck. Did he do it for publicity, because of some crying need for attention, or some unfathomable mental insecurity? We’ll probably never know. In any case, he should have been prosecuted for perpetuating a hoax, convicted, and quickly sentenced. That should have been the end of that.
Smollett in a perverse sort of way seemed to hint at the clear racial implications of the case when he warned that he might be a target once behind bars. This is yet another reminder, true or not, that police, prosecutors, and maybe his jailers, won’t likely forget his unpardonable transgression.
There’s the larger problem, though. That’s also buried in Foxx’s charge and compounded by Smollett’s claim of a racist attack. Put simply, that’s the danger of crying racism, when there is none, and the devastating continuing consequences of that.
I posted this Facebook warning immediately after the alleged attack, “be careful on this.” The responses were swift and brutal. But they boiled down to- “How dare you question that Smollett was anything other than a Black viciously assaulted by venomous Trump goaded racists?” Anything less than outrage at homophobic, black hating Trumpites was nothing short of racial heresy and spewing right-wing Fox News talking points.
The counterattack made some sense at the time. Smollett was young, Black, male, and gay. These are prime attributes that seemingly made him a prime target. He also had an activist track record backing the parents of Trayvon Martin in their quest for justice in the murder of Trayvon. What didn’t make sense were the holes in his story. And what made even less sense was the history and danger of a knee jerk scream of racism in cases such as this.
That history goes like this. A celebrated Black entertainer, athlete, or official comes under withering fire for getting caught in a personal and or criminal indiscretion, wrongdoing, or malfeasance, and they scream race. Even Bill Cosby flipped the race card when he pleaded for the Black media to remain “neutral” in the mounting furor and outrage over his alleged rapes of multiple women.
Cosby quickly walked down this tired, well-worn path for a good reason; in fact, several good reasons and none of them were any good. Others have done it before him. The litany of names from O.J. Simpson to Tiger Woods to Clarence Thomas is well known. They all had some things in common. They were wildly lionized as pillars of society. They said or did little or nothing about racial issues.
But they knew that by screaming that they were victims of a long-standing diabolical plot to demean, malign, pillory, and dehumanize Black men, especially wealthy, prominent black icons, they could get a ready, sympathetic ear, and even circle the wagons push back by many African Americans.
The great damage done has nothing to do with the proverbial crying wolf. It has everything to do with taking the legitimate sting, public outrage, and action that real, not invented, racial acts stir. Manufacturing a racial assault, which almost always is sooner than later uncovered, does in fact give aid and comfort to the Fox News talking heads and the right that delight in finger pointing Blacks for eternally screaming race about everything. At the very least it’s silly and counterproductive.
Smollett got the sentence and the punishment he deserved. Foxx got part of it right about the outsized effort to see that he did. But neither changes the fact that racist acts do happen and Smollett notwithstanding they can’t or shouldn’t be minimized.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.