Early on, one of my readers made an annoying dig about the frantic search for the attackers of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett:
“What are you going to say when the attackers turn out to be black?” he asked, taunting me.
Smollett, an openly gay black man and starring cast member of the popular TV show, has maintained that two masked men beat him, doused him with a substance believed to be bleach and put a rope around his neck, after first hurling racial and homophobic slurs.
The horrendous incident allegedly happened Jan. 29th around 2 a.m. in the 300 block of East North Water Street in the Streeterville neighborhood.
The peeved reader was referring to a video clip of two figures dressed in dark clothing who were walking near the area where Smollett said he was attacked.
The notion that Smollett was the victim of a hate crime in Streeterville was too far-fetched for a lot of people, and when an exhaustive search of video from cameras in the area turned up nothing – well, the rumors flew.
It didn’t take long for doubters to pick apart Smollett’s account of the attack, prompting him to go on “Good Morning America” Thursday to defend himself.
“I want the video found, found badly,” he told Robin Roberts, GMA’s anchor.
“I want a little gay boy, who might watch this to see that I fought f— back,” he said.
The attackers had allegedly yelled this is “MAGA country” as they tussled with Smollett then ran off. “MAGA” is an acronym for the Trump slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Frankly, the incident was so bizarre, it sounded like a scene from a bad movie.
The bombshell, of course, is that two men were arrested in connection with the Smollett attack — and they turned out to be two African-American brothers.
Authorities, though, released them late Friday night after questioning them for two days, saying in a tweet, “Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete.”
A law enforcement source told the Sun-Times on Saturday that detectives were pursuing information that Smollett may have paid the brothers to orchestrate the attack.
But police were careful not to imply publicly that the attack was a “hoax” or “staged” even as the Internet was running wild with speculation.
Earlier Friday, Chicago police added to the drama when they announced the arrest of the two brothers, who had been detained since Wednesday when they arrived at O’Hare Airport from a flight from Nigeria.
Their home had been searched, with police reportedly taking away a “black face-mask hat, an Empire script, phone, receipts, a red hat and bleach,” CBS2 reported.
According to police sources, one of the brothers plays a body double for Smollett’s gay lover on the show and is also his personal trainer in real life.
Coincidentally, Nigeria is considered the most homophobic country on earth.
In 2014, then-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalizes gay marriage and carries penalties of up to 14 years for organizations and individuals that support the LGBT community, and bans open displays of homosexuality.
Human Rights Watch found that since the law passed, there have been “rising incidents of mob violence, with groups of people gathering together and acting with a common intent of committing acts of violence against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
If the incident happened the way Smollett described, the attackers should be charged with a hate crime. Under Illinois statutes, a hate crime is a Class 4 felony for a first offense.
And if it didn’t, Smollett and whoever else may have been involved should be held accountable for squandering the city’s resources.
Because the worst part of this alleged hate crime is the vast police resources that have been devoted to finding Smollett’s attackers.
After all, Chicago police solved fewer than one in six homicides in the first half of 2018, according to an analysis by USA Today.
Fair or unfair, relatives of homicide victims likely see the intense investigation into the Smollett beating as proof that they don’t matter.
Andre Smith, 20th Ward aldermanic candidate, pointed that out last week when a 1-year-old boy was shot in the head on the South Side.
“We need to know how many man-hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars of the taxpayer’s money have been spent on arresting the two alleged perpetrators. Yet no one has been arrested in the baby boy shooting,” Smith said in a press release.
Meanwhile, what am I going to say if Smollett’s alleged attackers turn out to be black?
“What idiots. The real Trump supporters are going to have a heyday.”