While many were still reeling Wednesday from the stunning dismissal of charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly staging a hoax hate-crime attack against himself, the Rev. Jesse Jackson defended his organization’s letter of support cited in the court case.
A letter from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition stating it had been the beneficiary of some 16 hours of on-site community service from Smollett right before the Tuesday hearing was cited by prosecutors in dropping charges, along with one from the Los Angeles-based Black Aids Institute.
Jackson, who’d explained his organization developed a relationship with Smollett back in January, reaching out to the TV actor/singer after the headline-grabbing incident, discussed that relationship, citing racial inequities in the criminal justice system as why PUSH supports Smollett.
“PUSH has always been a house of refuge. It’s part of what we do, reaching out to people who are in distress, and we have done so in many high-profile cases over the years, from Sammy Davis Jr., when he hugged President Nixon and black folks turned against him, to Bobby Rush, after police tried to kill him in the Black Panthers raid,” Jackson told the Sun-Times.
“You can’t have people just one incident away from being in oblivion.”
Jackson said after PUSH reached out, Smollett, charged with 16 felony counts in the incident, came to see Jackson. Smollett later joined Rainbow PUSH as a member and had previously volunteered there, Jackson said.
Then last week, Smollett called and asked to come and volunteer on Saturday, March 23, and Monday, March 25, said Jackson. The volunteer work was under no court mandate, said Jackson, adding he had no knowledge those 16 hours would be cited by prosecutors, who sealed all case records.
“He worked to develop our choir,” Jackson said. “He worked in our studios. He worked on production. And he worked with kids in our tech program, teaching apps and codes and robotics.”
Jackson said he supports the prosecutors’ decision.
“I’m concerned about the inconsistencies of the criminal justice system. They’re saying he got a break because he’s well-known. Well the fact of the matter is prosecutors use discretion every day. Look at the Laquan McDonald case,” Jackson said.
“Jason Van Dyke got nearly seven years for murdering him, while the teen who killed Hadiya Pendleton, got 84 years. The officers who saw McDonald murdered and lied about it got off, and still have their jobs. Look at Paul Manafort’s sentence. Prosecutors got this guy on international larceny, and he got less than four years. And look at U.S. Rep. [Aaron] Schock, who got to pay the money back and have his record cleansed, while my son [former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.] went to jail,” Jackson continued. “We want one set of rules.”