Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Wednesday (March 27) defended the decision by her staff to drop charges that Empire actor Jussie Smollett staged a racist, anti-gay attack in January, a judgement that has caused concern among some in the black and LGBTQ communities.
Foxx recused herself before Smollett was charged last month because she had discussed the case with a Smollett family member. The case was handed to First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats.
Foxx didn’t directly answer the question when CBS 2 TV in Chicago asked if she believed Smollett was innocent, as Smollett has continued to contend, saying only that the matter was handled properly. She pointed to Smollett forfeiting his $10,000 bond and doing community service in return for dropping the charges. Magats has said that he does not believe Smollett is innocent and Chicago police say he faked the attack.
“I believe that the outcome — him having to forfeit the $10,000, having to do community service, based on the allegations, and again the (low level) felony and no (criminal) background, are an outcome that we could expect with this type of case,” Foxx said. She also insisted no one tried to intervene on Smollett’s behalf, despite emails showing that Foxx was contacted by people linked to Smollett about the case.
“There was no attempt, whatsoever, to influence the outcome of this case,” she said. “None whatsoever.”
Email and text messages provided to the Chicago Sun-Times by Foxx’s office show former first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen, contacted Foxx a few days after the report of the attack to set up a telephone conversation with a Smollett relative. Foxx told the Sun-Times the relative expressed concerns over leaked information that media outlets attributed to “police sources.” Foxx then called Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to ask him to let the FBI investigate the alleged attack. The contacts were cited by Foxx in recusing herself from the case on Feb. 13, well before Smollett was charged.
An attorney for Smollett late Wednesday blasted Chicago officials, saying they have “continued their campaign against Jussie Smollett after the charges against him have been dropped,” in what lawyer Patricia Brown Holmes described as an attempt to “smear” her client after his case has already been closed. “We should all allow Mr. Smollett to move on with his life as a free citizen,” she said in a statement.
Again Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized prosecutors, saying that dropping charges made no sense. “Something is rotten in Denmark,” he told reporters during an unrelated event. “It doesn’t add up.” Hours after the charges were dismissed Tuesday, Emanuel called the outcome “a whitewash.”
Also Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the Democrat is considering a lawmaker’s request to review the prosecutors’ decision to dismiss charges against Smollett. Raoul spokeswoman Annie Thompson had no further comment Wednesday. And, on Thursday morning (March 28), Pres. Trump tweeted that the “FBI and DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago,” adding “it is an embarassment to our Nation!”
Republican state Rep. David McSweeney filed a resolution requesting a “comprehensive examination” of the circumstances around the Smollett case. The House would have to approve McSweeney’s resolution. Democrats outnumber Republicans 74-44. And the attorney general is not bound by such a legislative request.
Defense attorneys have said Smollett’s record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts he’d faced. The actor told reporters Tuesday that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.” Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him as a publicity stunt.
Smollett’s bizarre saga has shaken the public trust, exposed the country’s deep racial wounds and damaged his acting career and his advocacy for African-Americans and LGBT issues. Left behind are hurt and blame and many questions that will likely go unanswered.
“Black people will see this as a black mark,” Georgetown University sociologist Michael Eric Dyson said. “Given what the consequences are, this does not help anybody. It doesn’t help the police department. It doesn’t help black activism. It doesn’t help Mr. Smollett. Everybody loses and nobody wins.”
Smollett, who is black and gay, reported to Chicago police that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 on his way home from a sandwich shop. He said his attackers threw some kind of chemical on him, looped a rope around his neck and beat him up while hurling slurs and yelling “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
The initial reports were frightening for many people, prompting a rush to judgment led in large part by black Americans and fueled by social media, with politicians, entertainers and the general public weighing in. “Social media allows all of us to be skeptics, and it allows all of us to ask questions and probe in public,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of the online civil rights organization Color of Change. “There’s the incentive to be first, to be loud, to be different in order to drive your visibility. The information that first came out was so visceral and scary for so many.”
Within days, a new narrative emerged. Investigators claimed Smollett made a false report to police because he was unhappy with his pay on the Fox television show and believed the attention would promote his career. Since the charges were dropped, many of those same voices have been reserved, reluctant to chime in or exhausted by the whiplash developments. Their silence stood in contrast to both outgoing Chicago Mayor Emanuel and Police Superintendent Johnson, who blasted Smollett as an opportunist who conjured a hate crime to enrich himself at the expense of the city and actual victims.
“This casts a shadow of whether they’re telling the truth, and he did this all in the name of self-promotion,” Emanuel told reporters at a news conference. “And he used the laws of the hate crime legislation that all of us collectively over years have put on the books to stand up to be the values that embody what we believe in. This is a whitewash of justice.”
It was a surreal moment for some activists still angered over Emanuel’s handling of the 2014 Laquan McDonald case in which a Chicago police officer fatally shot a black teen 16 times and city officials withheld video footage of the killing for months. The shooting and cover-up were on the minds of many in the black community who questioned whether Smollett would be treated fairly by the department.
But Tuesday’s developments left some observers wondering if, in the end, Smollett’s celebrity trumped his race. “Only black celebrities, and only occasionally, are treated with the same kind of privilege that white people who are anonymous can take for granted,” Dyson said. “Due process would be to let the facts come out. We had a public hearing with little evidence.”
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Without a resolution by jury, the case returns to the court of public opinion. Conservatives are already decrying what they perceive as hypocrisy from Black Lives Matter supporters. Fox News host Tucker Carlson addressed the situation in his Tuesday night monologue: Smollett “may claim to fight for marginalized people, but he is not one of them. In fact, he occupies the highest rank of privilege in our society. He is above the law.”
“Increasingly, there seem to be quite a few people like that in this country,” Carlson continued. “You will recognize them because they are the ones always lecturing you about how bigoted and unfair America is. What they don’t understand is that they are proving that point.”