Welp. The verdict is in, and it finds Empire actor Jussie Smollett guilty of falsely reporting that he was a victim of a hate crime. After a two day deliberation, the jury ruled that Smollett was guilty on not one, but five counts of felony disorderly conduct for making false police reports back in 2019.
The jurors verdict on Friday (December 10) wraps up the lingering public debate surrounding Smollett’s truthfulness about being targeted for being both gay and Black. For the last two years Smollett has been the subject of scrutiny and exemplification—much discourse about Smollett’s pronounced experience varying from disbelief to absolute praise for what he endured.
Breaking in the 2019 year as a hate crime survivor—garnering extensive media coverage and acclaim as a result—Smollett became living proof that anti-gayness and anti-Blackness is still a crucial issue in America. Claims made by Smollett on-air, and in police reports, reinforced that static bigotry still permeates our country, and African-Americans and LGBTQIA members continue to be victimized because of it.
Hence why his declarations that two men assaulted him in downtown Chicago at 2 A.M. spewing homophobic slurs at him were so polarizing. Smollett publicly stating, and reporting to Chicago detectives, that the men also tied a noose around his neck and yelled “this is MAGA country n***a,” however, is what really got people outraged. Black folks, gay folks and MAGA folks.
All three parties had a stake in the story at that point, and MAGA supporters—a synonym for Donald Trump supporters —were among the first to call Smollett’s incident a hoax. Conservative news outlets repeatedly questioned Smollett’s alleged attack, often denying the legitimacy of his assault.
It wasn’t until additional details about the fateful night were revealed that members of his intersectional identity also began to view Smollett’s story as a tall tale. Police finding footage of Smollett walking down the street, but no footage of the attack, and that one of the attackers worked with Smollett on Empire fueled skepticism.
Slowly the story shifted from Smollett being a victim to him being a perpetrator. In February of 2019 the Chicago Police Department confirmed people’s suspicion that Smollett’s case was a hoax.
According to ABC, “Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity. Investigators say they have a $3,500 check that Smollett used to pay the two brothers to help him.”
Shortly after that Smollett was hit with a tsunami of consequences, including a multi-count indictment in Feb. of 2019, and his character, Jamal Lyon, being removed from Empire in March of 2019. That same month the CPD requested a $130,000 refund from Smollett for them having to investigate his “staged beating,” according to ABC News.
The police’s request was ironic since in March of 2019 Smollett’s lawyers claimed that charges alleging he lied to police were dropped, according to ABC. In April of 2019 Smollett was hit with two lawsuits, one from the CPD who wanted to recoup investigation costs and the other from the brothers who helped Smollett.
Brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo sued Smollett for defamation in April of 2019, and the charges that Smollett’s attorneys said were dropped had been reduced, and restored in Feb. of 2020. Smollett was indicted in Feb. of 2020 on six counts of lying to the police, a lesser charge compared to the 16-count indictment that was initially filed against him in 2019.
From 2019 until now it has been a rollercoaster ride for Smollett, each turn making his story seem less and less plausible. In spite of everything, Smollett has continued to proclaim his innocence. Even in early December when the Obsundairo brothers testified against him, accusing Smollett of masterminding the entire attack for media sympathy and paying them to execute it, Smollett stuck by his not guilty plea.
Unfortunately for Smollett, his truth wasn’t convincing enough for the jury. While Smollett is found guilty by the court, and could be imprisoned up to three years and charged a $25,000 fine for his Class 4 felony, he still isn’t backing down. The former Empire superstar maintains his innocence, and will be appealing the verdict, according to CNN.
Irrespective of the outcome, the verdict doesn’t negate Smollett’s talent nor means that he’s unforgivable. Depending on how into conspiracy theories someone is one might view the entire fiasco as a set-up by the CPD, believing Smollett’s accomplices were actually in cahoots with CPD, not Smollett.
There are some individuals that still can’t understand why Smollett would need more media coverage when his success on Empire gathered him enough, causing them to continue to side with him. Either way, justice may or may not have been served today.