Actor Jussie Smollett. Photograph:( Reuters )
The 36-year-old star of the TV drama 'Empire' has gone from victim to suspect, and his case held up as a cautionary tale of rushing to judgment to indict the Donald Trump era.
US police on Wednesday charged TV actor Jussie Smollet with lying to authorities about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on the streets of Chicago.
Smollett is facing felony criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report on January 29, when he claimed two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago while yelling racial and homophobic slurs.
The alleged incident on January 29 initially seemed to confirm the worst fears of growing intolerance in America and led to an outpouring of support for actor Jussie Smollett.
But in the following weeks, the 36-year-old star of the TV drama 'Empire' has gone from victim to suspect, and his case held up as a cautionary tale of rushing to judgment to indict the Donald Trump era.
"Felony criminal charges have been approved by Cook County State's Attorney's Office against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.
"Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest."
Smollett reported to police that two masked men beat him on the streets of downtown Chicago while yelling racial and homophobic slurs.
He said his assailants poured bleach on him, tied a rope around his neck, and yelled "This is MAGA country" -- a reference to Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
Detectives grew suspicious of the account after interrogating two men who reportedly revealed that they were hired to stage the incident.
Chicago TV station WBBM said the men, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, claimed Smollett was unhappy that a threatening letter he had earlier received at the Chicago studios where his television show is filmed had not gotten enough attention.
Smollett has hired at least one prominent criminal defense attorney.
- A rush to judgment -
The initial news of Smollett's claims led to widespread condemnation and shock. An outpouring of support came from public figures such as Emma Watson, Katy Perry, and Joe Biden.
Senators and Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris both called the incident "an attempted modern-day lynching."
President Donald Trump commented that the alleged attack was "horrible."
But Smollett's story appeared to unravel with a steady stream of leaks to US media, and has since become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.
"Many politicians and journalists seemed to suspend all critical thought in a campaign to indict not just Mr. Smollett's attackers but the country as a whole," opinion writer Noah Rothman wrote in The New York Times.
The Chicago Tribune newspaper echoed that sentiment, while cautioning that the crime Smollett described "certainly was possible."
A 2018 analysis published by The Center for Public Integrity found more than 2.4 million crimes between 2012 and 2016 in which hate was suspected to be a motivating factor.
FBI statistics show hate crimes rose 17 percent in the US in 2017, especially against African American and Jewish populations.
"The real tragedy in all of this is that hate crimes are, in fact, on the rise in the Trump era," Rothman said.
Senator Harris was among those struggling to reconcile her initial statements with how the case has unfolded, when asked Monday by a reporter about what she now thought of Smollett's claims.
"It's something we should all take seriously whenever anyone alleges that kind of behavior, but there should be an investigation," Harris said, according to Fox News.