Jussie Smollett and the distrust of law enforcement
News outlets in America have relentlessly covered the incident involving actor Jussie Smollett and the alleged hate crime that took place in Chicago since the incident occurred in late January. Initial news of the crime garnered support for Smollett from various celebrities, and social and political influencers across the country wishing him a full recovery and a total stance against both homophobia and racism in all its forms. Since then, evidence has surfaced that suggested Smollett fabricated the entire event to cause controversy and solidify his place on the hit show, “Empire”. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) opened a full investigation into the incident and in February a Chicago court charged Smollett with 16 felony counts for every alleged “lie” he told police. Most recently, all charges have dropped against Smollett, however, the incident not only has raised questions about the legitimacy of the crimes enacted against Smollett but also the demeanor of the Chicago Police Department.
The CPD has a notorious history of over-policing people of color and an even greater history of lying. A 2016 task force report showed that people of color, specifically Black and brown people, were subject to constant and blatant abuse, investigative stops, threats, and brutality by the department. Most recently, the case of Laquan McDonald comes to the tops of many people’s minds, a black teen shot 16 times and killed by CPD officer, Jason Van Dyke. Reportedly, three police officers covered up this incident.
In response the findings of the report done by the task force, Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel said:
“I don’t really think you need a task force to know that we have racism in America, we have racism in Illinois, or that there’s racism… in the city of Chicago and obviously could be in our department.”
He added: “The question is: What are we going to do to confront it and make the changes in not only personnel but in policies to reflect, I think, the values that make up the diversity of our city?”
Mayor Emanuel’s words have not soothed or satisfied Chicago residents in the slightest. Chicago is infamously known to have one of the highest crime rates in the country. Many places in the city are severely lacking in resources and funding and the most disenfranchised are suffering because of it which results in the exorbitant levels of crime. Many people see the Smollett case as yet another example of the CPD’s abuse of power due in part to Smollett’s racial and sexual identity.
This case is a part of a larger conversation around America’s justice system and how police officers aid in contributing to the country’s issues of systemic racism and disenfranchisement. In response to the task force’s findings, residents and activists of Chicago have pushed for laws and policy that include ending the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the force charged with overseeing the most serious claims of police misconduct. The CPD report concluded that authorities failed to investigate a large segment of its cases, rarely carries out meaningful discipline, and is in favor of the police. There is a call for the IPRA to be replaced by a “fully transparent and accountable civilian police investigative agency.” The report also calls for an expansion of the city’s body cam program, units designed to handle mental health crises, and a deputy responsible for overseeing diversity and inclusion. None of which have been taken to heart by Mayor Emanuel or the CPD.
Many believe the Smollett case took away resources and funds that could have aided any of Chicago’s numerous impending investigations, including the CPD who are asking Smollett to pay over $130,000 dollars in restitution because of time and resources spent. Many, however, consider it to be hypocritical of the CPD because none of the suggestions made by the justice task force have been implemented, its residents are still harassed by police, and crime rates have not lowered. The Smollett case is another example of the disheartened trust between the American people and our relationship with law enforcement, specifically police relations between people of color who are historically disproportionately and negatively affected by their presence. America must do better in handling the way our Judicial system treats its citizens. People are dying every day at the hands of those given power by it and we cannot move forward as a nation if we continue to ignore its vast corruption.
By: Channler Twyman