By Joseph Jones
A couple of weeks ago, we published a piece about Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s claim that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime. Because of testimony by Smollett’s himself that the attackers invoked “Make America Great Again”, we asserted that the assault was a symptom of President Trump’s rhetoric. However, new developments have emerged in the investigation of Smollett’s account, and there is evidence to suggest that Smollett’s story is false, and a staged attack. At this time, the actor has been arrested and faces a felony charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report.
In the wake of the revelation that the attack on Smollett was staged, there has been tremendous backlash and outrage, with the President tweeting in response, “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?” Conservative commentator Ann Coulter also spoke on the story via Twitter, making a false claim that all hate crimes are hoaxes. She said “Alright, this particular hate crime turned out to be a hoax, but let's remember, ALL OF THEM are hoaxes. #Smollett”.
As a journalist I initially felt the need to apologize for printing a false story that helped to push a narrative, but as a queer person, I will not. While it’s easy for the President and Ann Coulter to view this story in a one-dimensional way and only focus on the fallacy of Smollett, for the LGBTQ and the POC community, this is an isolated incident that is not representative of reality. Everyday LGBTQ and POC live under the constant threat of danger, so when someone belonging to both of these communities come forward with a story of an assault on their person, I choose to believe them because it does not seem far-fetched to me at all. In fact, it’s almost expected.
This whole case also encapsulates a grotesque culture we live in where it is deemed acceptable, and even preferable, to have our natural instinct to be to shame and blame victims of crimes. When a survivor of sexual assault is brave enough to come forward to tell their story, there is doubt, mistrust, and an effort to discredit them. “Why are they coming forward now after all this time?”, is a question I constantly hear. Or there is a need to defend the accused, “If you didn’t dress a certain way this wouldn’t have happened to you”, “you were drunk”, “boys will be boys,”, etc. When someone finds the courage to tell the world that they were assaulted knowing that there will be so many people unwilling to listen to them , I choose to believe them in the hopes that it will help to restructure our culture from shaming victims to supporting victims.
While Smollett’s story may have been born out of deceit and deception and he should face the consequences of his actions and everyone regardless of who they are should be considered innocent until proven guilty, LGBTQ people, POC, and other minority groups are still disproportionately victims of hate crimes. There is even some date that indicates that these crimes are on the rise. We must not allow the Jussie Smollett’s story to result in a “boy who cried wolf” situation where legitimate stories are dismissed with skepticism. Similar to false rape allegations, we cannot let this case deter future victims of hate crimes from coming forward out of fear that they will not be believed, and their story will not be taken seriously. Smollett’s may have damaged his own credibility, but we cannot let him damage the credibility of those who may come forward with genuine cases.