Even at his sentencing, Jussie Smollett played the victim
The “Empire” actor could have owned a deception that diverted precious police resources from solving real crimes against people of color and his LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
As the end of the sad saga of Jussie Smollett finally arrived, I was watching for one thing that could have changed its trajectory.
If this Black and gay man had acknowledged that he faked an anti-Black, anti-gay hate crime, he could have changed his fate — and his place in history.
Smollett was convicted on five of six felony counts of disorderly conduct, after he was charged with filing a false police report and lying to Chicago police investigators.
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On Thursday, Cook County Court Judge James Linn sentenced Smollett to serve 150 days in jail. He must also serve 30 months of probation and pay just over $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a $25,000 fine.
During the sentencing hearing, Smollett’s attorneys aggressively argued his guilty verdict should be overturned because of numerous errors in the years-long investigation and trial. The judge rejected that request.
Then came a procession of pleas by Smollett’s allies, from his feisty grandmother to civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, all beseeching the judge to spare Smollett from a jail sentence.
Smollett could have admitted he made a mistake, as even some of his defenders have acknowledged.
Smollett could have said he regretted lying to the police and subjecting the nation to needless trauma around the excruciating issues of race, sexual orientation, class and power at a tender time in our history.
Smollett could have owned a deception that diverted precious police resources from solving real crimes against people of color and his LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
Instead, he sat in stunned silence as the judge delivered a blistering, half-hour rationale for his stiff sentence.
We’ll never know, but perhaps if Smollett had accepted any responsibility or uttered any regrets, Linn might have lightened his punishment. Most legal experts had predicted the disgraced actor would get no jail time, given that he was convicted of a low-level felony.
His lawyers say they will appeal.
After Linn announced the sentence, Smollett spoke up.
“I am not suicidal,” he declared in an outburst. “I am not suicidal! I am innocent! And I am not suicidal!”
He shouted to the court, “And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself! And you must all know that!”
Smollett is suggesting he could be subjected to racist and homophobic retribution in jail. He could be killed. Jussie Smollett, always the victim.
I understand his fear, of course. Smollett’s antics brought a lot of haters out of their caves. Since his hoax came to light in 2019, internet trolls, TV talking heads and white supremacists have been spewing hate his way, eager to demonize a famous Black man in trouble.
But Smollett did the crime, and so comes the time.
As he was being taken away to jail, he shouted, “If I did this, then it means that I stuck my fist in the fears of Black Americans in this country for 400 years and the fears of the LGBTQ community.”
Yes, Jussie, you did. Your fake crime brought real peril to Black and LGBTQ people who live with real threats every day.
You degraded and undermined justice for the countless real victims who have been lynched, raped, spat upon, profiled, name-called, unjustly incarcerated, demeaned and discriminated against in those 400 years.
That is the real crime.
Laura Washington is a political analyst for ABC 7. Follow her on Twitter @MediaDervish
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