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Cold-case murders deserve the same intense police work as Jussie Smollett case

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks during a press conference at CPD headquarters after actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in on charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report, Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks during a press conference at CPD headquarters after actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in on charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson declared last Thursday to a crowded room of reporters at police headquarters.

As much attention as Jussie Smollett, a delusional and craven TV actor who, police say, staged a hate crime for money and glory.

Johnson was there to detail how police exposed the lies behind the hate crime claim by Smollett, a cast member of the Fox TV show “Empire.”

Johnson is an eloquent and compassionate crime-fighter who is trying hard to reform his troubled police department.

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But I wish he had taken that podium to announce his detectives were tracking down more of the murderers and thugs who terrorize our city daily. And answer the questions asked by hundreds of families: Why can’t the Chicago Police Department solve the brutal crimes against our loved ones? What about us?

The three-week Smollett reality show has taken yet another bizarre turn, as Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

Police officials detailed a massive investigative effort: How they viewed reams of video footage and methodically built a timeline of the alleged attack. How detectives canvassed the Streeterville neighborhood and interviewed more than 100 people.

How they identified the two “assailants,” brothers who took a taxi away from the scene. How they tracked them to O’Hare Airport, where they boarded a flight to Nigeria.

“While we were waiting for their return, we executed over 50 search warrants and subpoenaed phone records, social media records and records on people to help us illuminate the likely facts that occurred in this event,” Area Central Detectives Cmdr. Edward Wodnicki was quoted as saying.

When the brothers returned from Nigeria, police interrogated and held them for two days, and got them to admit that Smollett had paid them to stage the attack.

Twelve detectives worked on the case.

“When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off — you know, because we have to invest valuable resources,” Johnson said at the press conference.

Indeed. Murder and pillage at will, but if you are a famous celebrity and “piss off” the police, they will hunt you down.

The Smollett investigation was “old-fashioned police work,” Johnson said.  “We didn’t pull any resources from any shooting or homicide investigations.” The case got no “special attention.”

Of course not.

Even if that’s true, it begs the question: Where is that magnificent, old-fashioned police work on behalf of the hundreds of murders and shootings that leave families begging for justice on the South and West sides of Chicago?

In 2017, police solved 114 of the 650 murders that year, a 17.5 percent clearance rate, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of police data.

Police cleared only 5 percent of non-fatal shootings in 2016, shows research by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

“I haven’t heard from the Chicago Police Department, anyone, in nine years,” Sheila Rush said last Friday in an interview on WGCI-FM.  “Nothing.”

In 2010, her son, Damian Turner, 18, was killed in a drive-by shooting on Chicago’s South Side. The case was never solved.

“You would think they would want to reach out (and say), ‘Ms. Rush, is there anything we can do for you? We’re sorry about your loss.’”

“You don’t have any money, you are not a star, you don’t get attention.”

In the Smollett case, no one was murdered. No one was shot.

Rush and too many other grieving families ask: “What about us?”

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