As of three weeks ago, the name “Jussie Smollett” would have been known only by the fans of the TV series, “Empire.” But since Smollett decided to take matters into his own hands by staging a “hate crime,” his name has been printed, posted and plastered across America.
According to the Washington Post, “The 36-year old ‘Empire’ actor filed a false police report when he claimed he was attacked last month in downtown Chicago by two men who shouted slurs and physically assaulted him. The incident captured national attention.”
As I write this article for Matters of Faith, Smollett’s case is still pending as many within the nation try and figure out if he really is a victim of a hate crime, or if he is just the “boy crying wolf” in order to draw attention to himself. If he is truly a victim of a crime, we need to rally around him and all victims of hate crimes in order to ensure their safety and protection; however, if Smollett is doing nothing but crying “wolf,” he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law so that he and others will know and believe that they cannot falsely accuse others of crimes, receive national attention and walk away scot-free.
I believe that Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson nailed this fall-out from Smollett right on the head when he said, “Bogus police reports [like this] cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who is in need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of the city.”
In the same vein, tone and concern as Johnson, Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston, pastor of Chicago’s New Hope Baptist Church, stated, “What [Smollett] did could make it harder for the straight, gay, black, white, rich, poor folks here in Chicago and in the nation. How much more cautious are police going to be to extend credibility and resources to a real hate crime?”
Although the verdict regarding Smollett’s guilt or innocence is not in at this time, many around the nation can already see the “writing on the wall” or the consequence of what happens when people like Smollett falsely draw attention to themselves: They make it just a little more difficult for true victims of hate crimes to actually receive attention or to be believed, and that’s the real crime! As in Aesop’s fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” there is the risk that villagers will not believe the “boy” or the “shepherd” and therefore, when a real wolf does appear, it will be written off as a false alarm.
We know that with each new false report, it becomes easier for us to “bury our heads in the sand” a little deeper by pretending that hatred, racism, prejudice or bigotry are not as prevalent as they once were during the slavery movement or during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Therefore, we can somehow put these issues on the back burner of our nation and continue moving forward, right?
I recently read an article called, “Sorry haters — A handful of hoaxes doesn’t debunk the hate-crime reality,” by Goldie Taylor and Katie Zavadski. They state, “While skeptics fixate on a handful of false reports, the number of real hate crimes has been rising across the United States. New York City has seen a 31 percent rise in hate crimes so far this year compared to the same period last year, with the number directed at Muslims going up by more than 100 percent. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 867 incidents targeting African Americans, Muslims, immigrants, women and the LGBT community. Online harassment was not included in the tally.”
I’m confident that the hate crimes that we have within our nation are not only affecting the adults who belong to different races, color or creeds; these hate crimes are also trickling down to the children in our schools. While doing some research, I stumbled across an excellent 40-page report for principals, teachers and parents called, “Responding to hate and bias at school — a guide for administrators, counselors and teachers.” As pastors, parents and teachers, we might not have time to read a 40-page report about hatred or bullying in schools, but we do need to do our best to ensure that “bullying” gets addressed several times throughout the year in order to protect the children and in order to teach them to respect others.
We may never fully understand what Smollett was thinking when he filed that police report, but we cannot afford to let his case cloud our desire to reach out and help others who are considered to be victims of hate crimes, and where does this outreach begin? It begins in the home; it begins with you and me.
“Let there be peace, and let it begin with you and me!”
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.