Latest twists on Smollett case ring with injustice

I was livid when it was revealed that the supposed hate crime against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett turned out to be a hoax. When charges were filed against Smollett in Chicago, I thought it was essential to send a message to celebrities everywhere that your golden pulpit comes with consequences when you misuse it.

According to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, there aren’t consequences, at least not the same that you or I would be if we cried wolf. The office decided it wasn’t worth the time — after already spending $130,000 pursuing the case — and decided to drop all charges against Smollett after he spent two days performing community service and forfeited his $10,000 bond. “Alternative prosecution,” they called it.

I call it a celebrity getting off easy.

The reason given for dropping the charges is that prosecutors should be pursuing perpetrators of violent crimes. That’s rather interesting, since Smollett claimed he was attacked and nearly strangled to death by two white men — who turned out to be two black men paid by Smollett. So, it would have received more attention from Cook County if it was a real violent crime instead of a fake one. You’ve got to admire the irony.

What has ensued since the charges were dropped is a circus that not even Barnum and Bailey could have dreamed up. There are cries that celebrity prosecution is done with kid gloves while regular prosecution is conducted with a heavy book thrown in a precise direction. Calls for the lead prosecutor, Kim Foxx, to resign because she dropped the charges have lead to claims that she’s being asked to step down simply because she is black.

Then, of course, there’s the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, vowing he’s sending Smollett a bill for the $130,000 spent by the city. He was enraged by the appearance that Smollett received preferential treatment by not having to enter a guilty plea and feels he’ll be able to rectify that with a reimbursement for the police manhours and other expenses looking into Smollett’s claims of being attacked.

In the next ring — because no circus would be complete without him — President Donald Trump is vowing to pick up where Chicago left off. He’s threatening to get the Department of Justice and the FBI involved in reviewing how the case was handled. Under most circumstances, that would be a good idea, but considering many of his grandiose promises are dialed back, I’m not betting on a resolution to this travesty anytime soon.

When this was just one man making a mockery of the justice system, it was bad enough. Now you’ve got an attorney, a mayor, a police union and the leader of the free world mixed up in all of this. This is definitely a glaring example of how truth is stranger than fiction.

What’s disturbing is that this can get a lot worse.

Let’s start with the state’s attorney’s office. What was the point of a big press conference with the police department to announce that Smollett was being charged as a felony prankster if Foxx and her colleagues knew they weren’t taking this before the judge? It wasn’t just the evidence police gathered. This went before a grand jury that recommended to indict. Who is going to serve on these grand juries if the prosecutors are just going to thumb their noses at the recommendations?

As for Emanuel, I certainly feel his frustration at being out $130,000 and wanting to get the taxpayers’ money back. However, because Smollett has not pleaded guilty, he can’t be held accountable for the money the government spent. Only once it’s ruled that’s he’s guilty can Emanuel realistically expect the TV star to pay up. If the mayor’s allowed to take this stance with Smollett, what’s to stop him or any other public official from railroading the unjustly accused? In my opinion, the city’s out of luck on the money.

Then there’s Trump. He needs to worry about the needs of the country — border security, health care, the farmers in our communities whose livelihoods are threatened by tariffs — and not use his bully pulpit to bring the wrath of the feds down on Chicago. That city’s got enough problems without more bureaucracy, and the president should realize that and move on. It’s not likely to happen, but it’s still the smart thing to do.

I think Smollett should face some reckoning. Giving up $10,000 is peanuts for a television star, and how many of us could get off with only a couple of days of community service? He also was written off the last two shows for this season of “Empire,” but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back in the saddle next season.

I don’t think the Cook County courts are going to provide that reckoning, and the victimization of America, especially of true victims of hate crimes, will continue until we determine that all crimes should be punished, and they should be punished equally. That’s how the justice system should work, but it’s clear we have a long, long way to go.

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