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EDITORIAL: Hate crime or faked crime, why is Chicago walking away?

Jussie Smollett listens as his attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, speaks to reporters last week. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

This is priceless.

Attorneys for Jussie Smollett say the “Empire” actor hasn’t ruled out filing a lawsuit — presumably against the Chicago cops and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office — after charges against him were dropped for allegedly staging a fake hate crime against himself.

Smollett and his legal team, according to the New York Daily News, are “weighing their options.”

We’re pretty confident it’s all just talk, though. A civil lawsuit could reopen a can of worms that Smollett might be smart to keep closed.

If he sues, whomever he targets is going to fight back. And Chicago might get the complete public airing of the facts, in a courtroom, that the state’s attorney’s weird and confidential deal with Smollett has killed for now.

We might finally learn what really happened in this strange case. We might finally learn whether the 36-year-old actor truly was attacked by two guys who yelled “This is MAGA country” (a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign motto) while shouting racial and gay slurs.

We might finally come to understand exactly who’s a victim and who’s not.

So go ahead and sue, Mr. Smollett. Do Chicago the favor.

Because nothing in this case has added up since that subzero night in January when Smollett reported to the police that he was attacked near his Streeterville condo. Several weeks later, prosecutors charged Smollett with faking the attack and paying two brothers, both of whom had worked with him on “Empire,” $3,500 to stage the crime.

Fast-forward to Tuesday, when prosecutors suddenly dropped all 16 felony charges.

Now Smollett and his attorneys insist he really was a hate-crime victim, even as the cops continue to insist that he orchestrated the whole thing.

And here’s the truly perplexing part: The state’s attorney’s office says they agree with the cops that Smollett was no victim, even as the office fails to explain convincingly why they dropped the charges.

Meanwhile, after a court hearing that lasted less than five minutes, a judge sealed the case record.

Veteran lawyers at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse are stunned.

If the case against Smollett was “rock solid,” as Police Supt. Eddie Johnson insisted, why was Smollett let off with few consequences, including the forfeiting of a $10,000 bond? Johnson is furious, as he should be.

Hundreds of hours of detective work went into this case, by a police department that’s stretched too thin. If this case was all a hoax, as police and prosecutors insist, the wasted money to the city was surely much more than the $10,000 Smollett gave up.

Chicagoans deserve to know whether a television actor looking to pump up his profile and fatten his paycheck led the cops around by the nose. If he truly was a hate-crime victim, by some improbable twist that confounds the known evidence, we’d like to know that, too.

In the meantime, let’s be clear: State’s Attorney Kim Foxx owns this mess.

Yes, she recused herself from the case early on, at least informally, because she had a conversation with a member of Smollett’s family. But as best we can tell, it’s her office that has made a hash of the case.

Foxx told WBEZ, by way of explanation, there has been “a lot of confusion.”

But much of that confusion has been created by her own staff.

Someone has been playing with fire with the whole concept of hate crimes, much to the disservice of a city that has been proudly progressive on gay rights but much less so on race relations.

That is no small offense. That is not to be dismissed lightly.

Go ahead and sue, Mr. Smollett. Chicago can’t wait to see you in court.

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