JoJo Smollett says his brother was condemned by the Chicago Police Department in an unjust investigation.
It has not yet been 90 days since my younger brother, Jussie Smollett, was assaulted on a cold winter night in Chicago. Within less than three months, his life has been turned upside down as my family and I have witnessed him endure unrelenting attacks to his character and reputation. Like so many others, this entire process quickly devolved from a focus on him as a victim of assault, to him being falsely accused and held responsible for a crime that was perpetrated against him. To define this experience as unjust would be an understatement.
After several leaks from “unnamed” police sources and despite a long history of wrongful accusations from the Chicago Police Department, many in the media accepted these unconfirmed reports as fact. The numerous police leaks, which prompted an internal Chicago Police investigation, convicted Jussie in the court of public opinion before he even entered a courtroom. On February 14, the day that the Osundario brothers were brought in for questioning as suspects, Fox News reported that the Chicago Police Communications Director, in response to leaked sources within the department, that had begun spreading the word that Jussie supposedly staged the attack, stated that the police chief “has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
If the CPD had no evidence to support the idea of a hoax, prior to interviewing the Osundarios, then they based their whole case against Jussie on that interview. The police chief later admitted that the men made no mention of a hoax until the final hour that they could legally be held. By this time, Jussie had already refused to sign a complaint against the Osundarios, convinced that these men, one who he had considered a friend and the other an acquaintance, could not be his attackers. Most importantly, detectives refused to show Jussie video, photos, or any evidence to prove they were the attackers. The fact that these two brothers, who in the final hour confessed to attacking my brother yet say it was Jussie who told them to, is all the evidence that the police and the general public needed to be convinced, should be frightening to everyone. Is that all it takes to destroy a lifelong dedication to one’s craft and community? Is it really that easy to convince the world of a person’s guilt? Is that all it takes to turn someone’s life upside down in America? Simply ask yourself this, “What if Jussie is telling the truth?”
With not one inkling of solid evidence, many believed the false witness testimony from two suspects who turned into witnesses, even though they lacked standard credibility. It was under-reported that one of the “witnesses” had previously been arrested for attempted murder ending with a plea deal for aggravated battery, or that the brothers repeatedly expressed homophobia on their social media in the past. Additionally, it was never reported that they changed their story while under police interrogation.
Jussie was booked, arrested and has maintained his innocence the entire time. Following an evaluation by prosecutors, before any court proceedings or a trial, the case was dismissed – dropped completely. I think that they, being legally trained and experienced, determined that the case against Jussie was weak. There were lots of things that came out in public to give them concern. After the initial reporting about a “check” paid to allegedly stage the incident, which turned out to have been a check for personal training and nutrition, other inconsistencies came out where the public accusations did not match up against the truth.
One important note, the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department announced publicly that Jussie’s motive in staging an attack was so he could make more money from Empire. Fox immediately said that wasn’t true but the police chief never withdrew his accusation. The chief also stated as fact that Jussie had sent himself the threatening letter that arrived at the Empire production offices weeks before the attack. The FBI then refuted this claim. Again, the chief did not correct his accusations. Letting it float for the public to either believe or not.
After several of these examples, anyone would have concluded what we knew — that the entire police case rested on two witnesses that lacked credibility and there was no physical evidence tying Jussie to this crime.
I was shocked at how easily everyone accepted the ridiculous motive about Jussie’s career that was promulgated. Jussie had actually begun directing episodes of Empire, which brought additional compensation. He worked out a deal with Fox to own 100% of his music masters, released an album, which lead to a sold out world tour and he donated every cent of ticket sales to charity. He even signed the group, June’s Diary, to his label. My brother was developing two films with one of the biggest producers in Hollywood, had the lead to a Broadway show on the table and owns the option rights to the authorized autobiography of his idol, Alvin Ailey. All pointing to not only an advancing career but a business savvy mind. To suggest that he staged his own attack to boost a sagging career is ludicrous. Jussie has a team of extremely effective agents, managers, publicists, and attorneys who helped him acquire career advancement. He wouldn’t need to roll around on the icy ground of a Chicago street, staging an attack on himself to make this happen.
Our democratic system of law and justice has made progress over the years. Racial, religious minorities, women and the LGBTQ communities have slowly won greater equality and justice. However, there is still a long way to go. We can’t ignore the desire among the far-right to criminalize whole sectors of the country, which they either refuse to accept or feel are natural political opponents. What exacerbates these problems is the bandwagoning and tyranny of the “perceived” majority, which frequently takes shape on social media. Let me be clear, it is undeniable that many people on social media support my brother. The love he receives from his village, fans and fellow activists is real. His gratitude is unwavering. What concerned me the most is, as the CPD continued their campaign against Jussie, I started to notice an online “bandwagon” approaching ignoring whether there were any real facts to suggest his guilt. In an effort to fit in with the momentum on social media, many appeared to roast him, demean him, and laugh at a traumatic and painful ordeal. Jussie is as strong as iron, but following an attack like this, there is a normal and natural amount of post trauma that mostly anyone should expect to suffer. I have literally seen him violently awakening from night terrors, following the assault. Some of my siblings, as well as Jussie’s partner and closest friends have seen similar things.
While very few people are courageous enough to swim upstream and resist the popular conformity of the day, I still can’t believe how many people failed to ask the question: “What if Jussie is telling the truth?”
This public persecution also happened to an unusually good, soulful and spiritual man. Jussie is an exceptional individual. He’s a loving son, brother, partner, and friend. Jussie’s character on Empire represents much of who he is and has given voice to people who have been historically marginalized. Television has never shown an openly gay, African American man, freely illustrating the depth and range of character, like Jussie’s portrayal of Jamal Lyon on Empire. My brother takes serious what he represents. Jussie is also immensely generous to people and organizations. He has been extremely outspoken on issues that not only affect the communities he is directly a part of but for every marginalized creature. He has donated time, money and clean water to Flint Michigan. He consistently gives to the Human Rights Campaign, Flint Kids, he sits on the board of the Black AIDS Institute and the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Jussie actively fundraised to save Bennett College, which is one of only two all-women Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He is a humble man whose charitable work, usually goes unnoticed and he never seeks attention for it. Jussie didn’t even want to contact the police, following his assault. He was weary and didn’t care for the unnecessary attention it might garner. His choreographer insisted, and the choreographer contacted the police himself. It should be noted: if he staged the attack for publicity to boost his career, as alleged, why would he not want to make the incident public?
Jussie has been an entertainer since the age of five, and loves his craft. He is a consummate singer, dancer, actor, and the funniest person I have ever known. Today, unfortunately, he finds his livelihood in jeopardy. Jussie was concerned that forfeiting the $10,000 bail could look like an admission of guilt. In fact, not paying, and proceeding with a potentially multi-year process that would bankrupt him and his career was not a realistic option. Even now he carries immense financial burdens for his legal defense and security needs.
We live in a country that promises liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness. Jussie deserves those civil guarantees as much as everyone else. Our sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming individuals, progressive and LGBTQ communities, know very well that being wrongfully accused happens far too often. Make no mistake. I know with all my heart that plenty of people in his life are far worse off. I am definitely not asking you to feel sorry for my brother. He would never allow that. He still carries a humility and grace and knows he walks in more rarified air than so many people who have been wrongly accused and paying a heavy price. I am simply hoping there are some conscious-minded people out there who, instead of carelessly victim blaming and shaming, want to loudly ask the simple question: “What if Jussie is telling the truth?”