Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: Why Black actor Jussie Smollet should not be facing jail time

<p>Actor Jussie Smollett is pictured speaking to Judge James Linn at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on March 10, 2022. </p>

Actor Jussie Smollett is pictured speaking to Judge James Linn at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on March 10, 2022.

It's common knowledge there are racial disparities embedded in the U.S. criminal justice system. Black people are more likely to be arrested and convicted of lengthy prison sentences than their white counterparts. Even as a rich, entitled actor, Jussie Smollet's experience in the justice system is no different than many Black Americans behind bars.

Whether or not you believe Smollett, you must acknowledge how unjust his punishment is.

On March 10th, the Black and gay actor was sentenced to five months in jail, 30 months of felony probation, and ordered to pay restitution after being found guilty of falsely reporting a hate crime.

In 2019, Smollett falsely claimed he had been the victim of a hate crime. He claimed he was attacked by two masked men who used racist and homophobic slurs and tied a rope around his neck.

Smollett’s story quickly fell apart and a search to find his attackers quickly turned into an investigation against him. He was originally charged with disorderly conduct, but charges were dropped in exchange for him to surrender his $10,000 bond and complete community service. This was an appropriate punishment, especially for a first-time offender of a nonviolent crime.

However, many people, especially powerful elites, disapproved of Smollet's punishment.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted the result of the case was "an embarrassment to our nation" and pushed for the FBI to review the case. 

British television personality Piers Morgan tweeted Jussie Smollet "deserves no mercy, no sympathy, just our fury." 

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the resolution of Smollet's case a "whitewash."

The procedure to prosecute Smollet again was unusual.

Retired Chicago Judge Sheila O' Brien filed a petition to investigate the handling of the case, claiming the negative commentary of the Illinois justice system was personally damaging and her “desire to live peacefully has been diminished.”

Chicago’s chief criminal court judge appointed a special counsel to investigate how Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office handled the case and determine whether Smollet should be recharged in response to Judge O’Brien’s petition.

Completely ignoring any presumption of innocence, the judge’s order described Smollett as a “charlatan who fomented a hoax the equal of any twisted television intrigue.”

Private attorney Dan K. Webb was appointed to examine and oversee the handling of the case. He charged Smollett with several felonies and in a report stated Foxx’s office had not broken any laws.

It was bizarre Webb oversaw the handling of the case. He was a white private lawyer and was given more power and control than the Black prosecutor, Kim Foxx who was elected to make decisions in criminal cases such as Smollet's.

Smollett's case demonstrates what lengths politicians and people in power will go to prosecute a Black man for lying.

Countless times white people have falsely accused Black people of threatening and harming them without facing any criminal consequences.

In 2020, Amy Cooper lied to authorities and falsely accused a Black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, of being threatening and dangerous after he asked her to abide by park rules and put her dog on a leash. Amy Cooper's false call to the police could have ended catastrophically for Christian Cooper. After attending five therapy sessions that discussed racial-bias education, Amy Cooper's chargers were dropped. The prosecutor called it restorative justice.

I can go on for hours listing cases where white people have made false claims to police officers and were not charged or convicted of a crime even in cases that resulted in the death of a Black person.

Smollet is yet another Black man in the justice system whose punishment does not fit the crime.

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