News

Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Friday, February 22, 2019

Print this page Email A Friend!


CHICAGO, United States (AFP) — An American TV actor was criminally charged yesterday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the gay African-American actor who stars on Fox Music industry drama Empire, go from victim to suspect after he reported the purported assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans' anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary”.

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, Donald Trump weighed in yesterday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president's “Make America Great Again” slogan along with homophobic and racist slurs during the purported attack.

Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city's image.

“Smollett paid US$3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve.”

Smollett, who turned himself in early yesterday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted US$100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late yesterday afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media.

He had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they tried and failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at Smollett for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce Empire and had stood by the actor, said, “We understand the seriousness of this matter”, and “are considering our options.”

Grave-faced members of Smollett's family walked out of court without speaking to the crush of media.

Smollett's attorneys have promised to conduct their own investigation and mount “an aggressive defence”.

“Like any other citizen, Mr Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a statement released Wednesday night.

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on Empire, and were acquaintances of the actor — one of whom allegedly provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

“As more evidence such as text messages, phone records, social media records, bank records, surveillance video, and the receipt from the purchase of the rope was obtained by investigators, this investigation shifted from a hate crime to disorderly conduct,” prosecutor Risa Lanier told reporters.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed cheque that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett's claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern-day lynching”.

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible”.

Since then, Smollett's story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgement, and politicians, celebrities and non-profit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating”.

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive


ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT