Posted on March 17, 2022

Why Jailing Jussie Smollett Is Unjust

Paul Butler, Washington Post, March 15, 2022

I don’t believe Jussie Smollett but I recognize when a Black man gets railroaded through a justice system that is out to get him. A rich entitled actor is hardly the most sympathetic face of reform. Still, Smollett’s case demonstrates that when powerful elites decide they want a Black man locked up, nothing and nobody — not even the elected prosecutor — will stop them.

Smollett’s the Black, gay actor who falsely claimed he had been the victim of a hate crime — attacked, he said, by two masked men who used racist and homophobic slurs and tied a rope around his neck.

Smollett’s story quickly fell apart, even as he continued to maintain his victimhood. He was charged with disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped in exchange for community service and surrender his $10,000 bond — an appropriate result for a first-time offender in a nonviolent crime.

But that wasn’t enough for many White people — and some Black people as well — who wanted a pound of Smollett’s flesh. Not for then-President Donald Trump, who tweeted the case was “an embarrassment to our nation.” Not for then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called the resolution a “whitewash.” New York Post columnist Kyle Smith wrote, presciently and unsympathetically, “Smollett has not been nailed, and Chicago wants him nailed. He will get nailed.”

And nailed he was. The case against Smollett was revived, he was convicted of five counts of disorderly conduct, and last week sentenced to 150 days in jail. But incarcerating Smollett for falsely reporting a hate crime has nothing to do with protecting actual victims of racist and homophobic violence. Rather, it’s legal vigilantism that sends a stern warning about the limits of criminal justice reform: If those in power want a Black man locked up, they will find a way to do it.


Sending a Black gay man to jail for lying about being attacked will not encourage hate crime victims to come forward. Instead, it sends the message that they, rather than their assailants, are subject to being incarcerated if authorities don’t believe their stories. {snip}


As for Smollett, he is just another Black man serving time — in a system more perverted than his crime.