Jussie Smollett’s ‘victim’ tale makes victims of us all

When “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett said he was the victim of a vicious hate crime in January, the world felt horrible for him, with U.S. senators and other public officials vowing to take action to strengthen hate crimes laws.

When Smollett was arrested for filing a false police report this week, that horror turned to anger, as the story of an attempted racist attack is now supposedly a hoax, making it so much harder for people of color and gay people to come forward about hate crimes, victimizing hardcore fans of President Donald Trump, and serving as another reminder that some celebrities use their spotlight to cover up their own shortcomings.

In the age #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, more people are trying to come with grips with the reality that there are predators out there who have set their sights on women, minorities and other categories of people who are targeted for violence. That’s what made it so easy for folks to believe that Smollett had been attacked on the streets of Chicago.

Smollett’s black and gay, fitting into two categories of people more likely to be attacked by individuals with violence issues. The report of his “attack” sent others in these categories into fits of despair and anger, saying that this is an example of Trump’s ideology to “Make America Great Again” being one of hate, as Smollett reported that white men attacked him, called him multiple slurs and claimed that Chicago was “MAGA Country.”

It was a compelling story on Jan. 29, when Smollett said the attack happened. After all, it wasn’t the first time that a black man had been attacked, and it wasn’t the first time a gay man had been beaten. We, as a society today, are inclined to believe victims in the hopes that others who are afraid to come forward with their story will have the courage to speak up and thus be believed. To think otherwise is frowned upon.

It might be less frowned upon today after the revelation that Smollett made it up. He wasn’t attacked by white men in MAGA hats. He orchestrated the “attack” with the help of two black men that were acquainted with him, paying them to mess him up, just enough to make it look like a hate crime but not so much that it left him disfigured and unable to continue his acting career. As it turned out, his acting career was at the center of this hoax, because he hoped the sympathy of being “attacked” would result in a boost in his salary on “Empire.”

You know, most people feeling like they’re not getting enough attention get therapy. They get a dog. They don’t stage a hate crime and tie up the media airwaves for almost a month.

Smollett tried to make himself look like a victim with a story built on a house of cards, and the toppling of that story has created countless victims in the process.

The next time a black person comes forward and claims white men have attacked and called said person the N-word, will police be inclined to believe that person, or will the possibility that he or she could just be another Jussie Smollett trying to get some attention?

The next time a gay man is beaten, berated and even left for dead, will we be inclined to believe it’s a hate crime, or will we think it’s just some freak who will go to extremes to be seen as someone who is pitied?

Violent crime victims of all stripes are impacted, too. Even though he’s not a rape victim, or someone who is handicapped, anyone investigating these crimes could have that lingering doubt about whether the crimes these people have faced are real.

The city of Chicago is a victim, as well. While most of the violent crimes in Chicago are real, the city should only be taken to task for those crimes, not the fantasies dreamed up by someone who doesn’t believe the spotlight on him is bright enough.

There’s also the actual victims of hate crimes in that city, victimized again because the police officers and detectives looking into Smollett’s faux crime were not available to track down the perpetrators of real crimes.

Trump supporters are victimized by Smollett’s story, as he claimed white men who are alleged supporters of the president were chanting the tired racist and homophobic slurs as bleach was splashed in his face and a noose was attempted to be placed around his neck. While there are racists, homophobes and others who marginalize people among Trump’s acolytes, they should only face the music on their real actions, not an actor’s made-up ones.

Finally, Hollywood itself is a victim — bear with me on this one. Celebrities like to use their status to speak in favor of or against various causes, and many of them are genuine. However, with Smollett exposed for his falsehoods, we’re going to be more likely to reply to activist actors, “Shut up, get back in my television and entertain me.”

Smollett has deceived the world, fans and non-fans alike. The actor has cast himself into a role no one asked him to play. I think it’s time to tell him his 15 minutes are up, and that his attempt to look like a victim has made victims of us all.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.