OPINION: Last week I supported Jussie Smollett. Now, I’m not so sure.

Tagwa Shammet, Contributing Writer

When I hear about hate crimes, it brings me to tears. The blatant disrespect and violence against people for being themselves; it’s enraging. But sometimes people lie. “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s case broke my heart.

Smollett said he was attacked Jan. 29 by two white men who were alleged supporters of President Donald Trump. Amid the investigation, an anonymous tip was sent to investigators saying Smollett not only knew his attackers, but orchestrated the entire attack. The two men who allegedly attacked him are brothers — Ola Osundairo and Abel Osundairo.

According to NBC News, “Chicago police confirmed on Tuesday that they received a tip from someone claiming to have seen the three men together in an elevator of Smollett’s apartment building on the evening of the attack.” If these claims are true, Smollett faces far more than public outroar.

I wrote about Smollett the week of his attack. I stood behind him and believed that he was the victim of a hate crime. With the hate and polarization plaguing our country today, it was easy for me to come to that conclusion. Why would anyone lie about this?

Then, allegations that he orchestrated the attack arose. Aside from that tip, Smollett isn’t helping his case by refusing to talk to authorities. If he truly was a victim of the crime, he would be doing everything in his power to help law enforcement catch the perpetrators. Instead, he hasn’t said anything about the situation, aside from his lawyer denying the allegations on Smollett’s behalf. As of Feb. 21, Smollett has been arrested and faces felony charges.

Hate crimes are some of the most difficult crimes to prosecute. In 2017, the FBI released data on bias-motivated incidents that shows more than 4,000 hate crime offenses were motivated by race or ethnicity. Nearly 1,000 hate crimes were based on sexual orientation, according to the data.

People are afraid to report hate crimes, and prosecutors struggle to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, the legitimacy of the crime. For someone like Smollett, a person in the spotlight, being accused of utilizing a hate crime as a publicity stunt is disheartening. All it takes is one. One case like Smollett’s leads people to dismiss the hate crimes that occur everyday. By allegedly lying, Smollett has disrupted justice for actual victims of hate crimes in the U.S.

Smollett not only faces a ruined career, but real prison time. He is at risk of being charged with a Class 4 felony — the falsification of a police report. This could land him in prison for one to three years. Because Smollett is famous, he is also a high-profile case, which means the nation is watching. If Smollett is found to be lying, he will lose the support of his fans and of the public, which will land him in even hotter water. The same way Americans expected justice in the cases of O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers and Willie Horton, they will be waiting for the same tough punishment against Smollett.

If it’s proven that he falsified the attack, Smollett deserves to be punished to the fullest extent for his crime. What would he gain from lying — extra publicity? All at the cost of real victims of hate crimes being put into danger by having their cases doubted.

I don’t retract my previous story on the polarization of America. Trump is pushing us further apart, and cases like this are real. Whether he’s convicted, I’m eager to see justice served in Smollett’s case.

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