Start of prosecution Smollett faked racist attack


FILE – In this May 20, 2016, file photo, actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the FYC “Empire” event in Los Angeles. Smollett is on trial this week on charges of lying to police when he said he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago. Jury selection is scheduled for Monday, November 29, 2021. (Richard Shotwell / Invision / AP, File)

Richard Shotwell / Invision / AP

A popular actor takes to the streets and is brutally reminded that, despite his fame and wealth, there are still places where his skin color and sexual orientation put him in danger.

This is the story that ricocheted around the world after Jussie Smollett, a black and openly gay actor, reported to Chicago police that he had been the victim of a hate crime.

Almost three years later, Smollett is on the verge of being tried for organizing everything.

He was charged with disorderly driving after law enforcement and prosecutors said he lied to police about what happened in the early morning of January 29, 2019 in downtown Chicago. He pleaded not guilty. Jury selection is due to start on Monday. Disorderly driving, a Class 4 felony, carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, but experts said it was more likely that if Smollett was found guilty he would be placed on probation and possibly sentenced to perform community service.

Smollett told police he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop at 2 a.m. when two men he said recognized him on the “Empire” TV show started hurling racial slurs at him and homophobic. He said the men punched him, put a makeshift noose around his neck and shouted, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great. Again ”.

The reaction to his reported aggression has underscored the increasingly polarized political landscape; Democratic politicians and others have called it a shocking example of Trump-era fanaticism and hatred, while Republicans have accused Liberals of rushing to portray the president’s supporters as racists.

A few weeks later, the astonishing announcement that Smollett was accused of organizing the attack to advance his career and get a higher salary. And, according to police, he hired two Nigerian brothers to pretend to attack him for $ 3,500.

It shone the spotlight on Smollett even more, but this time he was vilified as someone willing to use one of the most powerful symbols of racism in America to advance his career.

“The most vile and despicable part, if that’s true, is the noose,” Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr., who is black, said during Smollett’s first court appearance. “This symbol evokes such evil in the history of this country.”

Smollett has also become a national punchline. He was the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch and a host of black celebrities, from NBA analyst Charles Barkley to comedian Dave Chappelle, took turns laughing at him.

Then came the anger that Smollett’s fame bestowed upon him an influence that is beyond the reach of most. Reports have indicated that Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx, at the request of former Chief of Staff to former First Lady Michelle Obama, contacted a member of Smollett’s family early of the investigation. Foxx withdrew from the case, then her office suddenly dropped the charges, and Foxx found itself at the center of a media storm as she refuted the suggestion that her office had given the star a break. from television.

All of this set the stage for what turned a simple question of Smollett’s innocence or guilt into a convoluted legal saga that spanned nearly three years.

The trial has been delayed in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted business across the country for months. But also, charges were filed, dropped and re-filed by a special prosecutor who was brought in to take charge of the case.

Smollett – whose career has since fizzled out – will return to the media spotlight this week, but this time as he walks past the forest of press cameras on his way to court.

The producers of “Empire”, on which he played for four years, renewed his contract for the sixth and final season in 2019, but he never appeared in an episode. He also did not release any music or give significant musical performances.

He has, however, made an independent film, funded by his own production company, which will premiere at the American Black Film Festival this month. The movie “B-Boy Blues” is an adaptation of a 1994 novel, the first in a series, about the lives of gay black men in New York City.

But once in court, what will unfold will be what may seem like a bad movie for the simple reason that a short film is exactly what authorities have long argued Smollett was trying to create.

Key witnesses will be the brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who say Smollett wrote them a check to organize the attack. They are expected to characterize Smollett as the star and director of a surveillance camera “attack” that he says would record the entire event.

And, according to their attorney, the brothers will also describe how Smollett led them to where the incident was to take place for a “dress rehearsal.”

“He was telling them ‘Here is a camera, there is a camera and this is where you are going to run away,’” said their lawyer, Gloria Rodriguez.


Associated Press reporter Andrew Dalton contributed from Los Angeles.

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