Notes and thoughts on the Smollett case

Earlier this week “The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against Jusie Smollett on Tuesday but released little about why it abandoned the 16 felony disorderly conduct charges,” CNN reported.

What we know

NPR reports “Prosecutors in Cook County, Ill., said they would not pursue the grand jury indictmentagainst Smollett, which returned 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct against him. Tuesday’s decision, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, had to do, in part, with the actor’s community service and bond payment to the city.”

According to the report “The lead prosecutor in the case said they reviewed the case’s facts and considered Smollett’s volunteer service in the community as well as his willingness to forfeit his $10,000 bond. He also noted that Smollett had no prior felonies and wasn’t a danger to the community.”

“A judge agreed to seal Smollett’s court file at the request of his attorneys and without the opposition from prosecutors.” This makes it appear prosecutors almost played the role of defense attorneys in this case.

Many wonder what happened

“Nothing has changed other than the fact that this guy got to the state’s attorney’s office somehow and they worked out a back door deal that threw the mayor and the police department under the bus. Period,” said Former Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey, agreeing with Johnson to CNN.

“We have a right as the American people to know why these charges were dropped. If Jussie is telling the truth, we should know that,” said civil rights attorney Areva Martin. said, according to CNN.

Smollett says he is innocent. “I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one...I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of.”

FoxNews says “Tina Tchen, the attorney and former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, has garnered scrutiny after messages traded with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — about the alleged hoax linked to actor Jussie Smollett — emerged shortly before prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollett on Tuesday.”

The National District Attorneys Association, which claims to represent roughly 2,700 prosecutors’ offices around the country, heavily criticized Foxx in a statement to Fox News.

“Prosecutors should not take advice from politically connected friends of the accused. Each case should be approached with the goal of justice for victims while protecting the rights of the defendant. Third, when a prosecutor seeks to resolve a case through diversion or some other alternative to prosecution, it should be done so with an acknowledgement of culpability on the part of the defendant. A case with the consequential effects of Mr. Smollett’s should not be resolved without a finding of guilt or innocence….Fourth, expunging Mr. Smollett’s record at this immediate stage is counter to transparency. Law enforcement will now not be able to acknowledge that Mr. Smollett was indicted and charged with these horrible crimes and the full record of what occurred will be forever hidden from public view. Finally, we believe strongly that hate crimes should be prosecuted vigorously but the burden of proof should not be artificially increased due to the misguided decisions of others.”


Cook County prosecutors dismissed all charges but still maintained Smollett lied about being attacked in downtown Chicago on Jan. 29. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the dropping of charges “a whitewash.”

David Axelrod notes “Unless some better explanation surfaces, here’s the lesson of this weird turn in the Smollett case: You can contrive a hate crime, make it a national news, get caught and-if you are a well-connected celebrity-get off for $10K and have your record expunged and files sealed… Faking them is insidious and shouldn’t be excused. Despite Smollett’s denials, nothing the prosecutor said in dismissing the case supports that. If prosecutors have evidence that contradicts the indictment THEY brought, they should share it today….No. Sorry, folks. The brief statement offered by the prosecutor didn’t dispute the basic facts in the original charge. That’s why he was compelled to sacrifice his bond. They simply said that in light of his voluntary work in the community, this was a just resolution.”

Randy Barnett also is wondering what happened.

“None of this is normal—even for Crook County where I was an Assistant State’s Attorney. Educated guess: this hoax implicated someone very important who had pull with the State’s Attorney, and who very badly did not want to be implicated.”

Community service

“Jussie Smollett performed just 16 hours of community service over the course of two days at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s human rights coalition — apparently, enough for prosecutors to drop felony charges against him,” Page Six reported. It goes on to note “The ‘Empire’ actor and accused hoaxer completed the volunteer work on Saturday and Monday, the group Rainbow PUSH Coalition said. Rainbow PUSH called Smollett “one of the most impactful community service volunteers that we have ever worked with,” CBS Chicago reported.”

The report sheds light on some more details. “When he first was reported to be in the crisis, we reached out to him like we often do. He responded, came over that time. I sought to counsel him,” Jesse Jackson said to CBS. “Jussie is a member of our organization. He, like many other members, has given of his time and talent and continues to do so,” the statement continued. “During this period of disruption to his life and livelihood, Jussie has spent time here helping to advance this important work.”

According to the report he spent the time “Smollett’s work with Rainbow PUSH included speaking to students about the music and film industry and volunteering in the PUSH Freedom Store, where he managed sales and peddled merchandise.”

What’s odd is that since he continues to maintain his innocence, the speaking didn’t include discussions of the seriousness of reporting actual hate crimes.

Smollett has referenced “the movement” in at least one Statement. He said “I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain. I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one, I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of…This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of faith and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this, I just wouldn’t.”

The New York Times reported in 2016 “The members of the Smollett clan have made good on their childhood … and, lately, have lent their voices to the Black Lives Matter movement.” but the saga has shaken public trust, the NYT writes.

Now what

The saga has led to many questions. It may remind us of other cases where wealth and connections seemed to intersect, such as the Epstein case, Weinstein, Michael Jackson, Brock Turner or even OJ.

With Trump jumping on the case, it will remain politisized, which probably means the public will be at a loss due to lack of transparency and a lesson learned.

What have we learned? It’s not just about connections and power and celebrity. Some celebrities get a deal or might get off, but often they at least have to admit guilt or win in a trial. Usually prosecutors attempt to bring a case, and sometimes they can’t due to various reasons.

In the Smollett case there are now questions, but unlike some other high profile cases, there doesn’t appear to be a victim in this case. It’s not clear regarding guilt or innocence, but the prosecutors don’t appear to be keeping the case open as a hate crime. That means the case could have been settled, but people have wondered about the lack of judgement, lack of admission of guilt, considering the hefty charges initially.

Of course prosecutors have a lot of leeway. In a case where a teen hit a politician with an egg in Australia it appears he won’t be charged, yet another man in the UK was jailed.  But expunging a case and entirely removing it from the database as if it never existed, questions remain. It may be that we are seeing anew type of American justice. In this new kind of justice cases disappear.

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