Recently stories of hate, intolerance, and injustice have flooded the media. Most people, out of compassion, rally behind those who have been hurt and take steps to ensure that we don’t allow these types of crimes to occur.
This was my initial reaction when Jussie Smollett, an actor and singer, reported that he had been the victim of a hate crime. He alleged that two men in ski masks had attacked him, calling him racial and homophobic slurs. According to Smollett, they even proclaimed, "This is MAGA country." Smollett originally stated that the two suspects then "poured an unknown liquid" on him and put a noose around his neck.
His story was instantly full of holes, such as having no video footage after police scoured hundreds of hours of tape from the location where Smollett claimed the attack occurred, as well as phone records showing he had been in contact with his alleged attackers an hour before and directly after the assault. The Chicago police, who had to divert time and resources from all of the city’s open homicide cases, picked up on these flaws immediately.
Inconsistencies in Smollett’s report, however, did not stop the masses from sharing his story on social media. Celebrities and political figures like Nancy Pelosi, Terrence Howard, Maxine Waters, and Cory Booker were especially quick to give Smollett a platform. Once the police concluded that he had faked the attack, however, these same people became mysteriously silent.
Kamala Harris, who tweeted in support of Smollett after his initial report, was asked to respond by a reporter after news of his false report was revealed. She initially ignored the reporter who was referencing her tweet and sidestepped the question. After public outcry, Harris finally clarified on Twitter that she no longer supports Smollett. Her actions are too little, too late.
The much larger issue is that compared with the volume of response to his initial outcry, very few people are discussing the implications of Smollett’s hoax. In his blatant lies, he has provided ammunition for every person looking for a reason to doubt victims of hate crimes. One would hope that public silence is a way to minimize discussion of his actions in order to limit the amount of “Well, Jussie Smollett faked a hate crime. How do we know (insert victim here) isn’t doing the same thing?” Unfortunately, by refusing to publicly and vehemently denounce Smollett and everything he has done to set back victims' rights, people are inherently giving validity to those who would use his actions against future victims.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, said the hoax “is the worst possible thing at the worst possible time” because of its dangerous implications for victims in the future. There is no way to fully repair the damage Smollett has done to the credibility of victims of hate crimes. But a lack of dialogue does nothing to fix it.