View from the voice: We’re living in the era of outrage

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When news broke that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett had been brutally assaulted by two noose-carrying men in Chicago, condemnations and commentaries poured in from every corner of the nation. It was a narrative we all expected was true: a pair of racist aggressors, spurred on by President Trump’s hateful rhetoric and shouting about “MAGA country,” attacked Smollett for being gay, black and successful in America in 2019.

Now, in a whirlwind turn of events, the Cook County state attorney has filed a felony disorderly conduct charge against Smollett for potentially filing a false police report. The actor and singer turned himself in to Chicago police to face charge and had his bail set at $100,000.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson was among those shocked and angered by Smollett’s alleged actions. “I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” Johnson said on Feb. 21.

That’s the question swirling in everyone’s heads as the month-long investigation continues, but perhaps we should ask ourselves why, without hesitation, we jumped on Smollett’s claim and demanded immediate action. We wanted to hear from senators, law enforcement, media pundits – anyone who could confirm this story we so desperately wanted to believe.     

They were quick to answer. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker vehemently denounced the incident and described the attack on Smollett as a modern-day lynching. Even Trump weighed in during an interview with April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, saying “I think that’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse.”

But it does get worse for people who are victims of actual hate crimes. Smollett is now out of jail after posting bond, and his character on “Empire” has already been pulled from the show. Should his story be proven false, he faces one to three years behind bars. The damage could already be done, however; the fallout of this case will make it even more difficult for true victims of racist and homophobic attacks to tell their stories and be believed.
We at The Voice believe that, as difficult as it can be, we have to put our outrage on hold until the investigation can run its course. The case has implications of race relations, police accountability, sexual orientation, politics and hate-related violence. In other words, there will be a long fallout regardless of how the investigation proceeds.

The Chicago PD could prove to be an x-factor in this case. The police have claimed that Smollett staged the hoax because he was “dissatisfied” with his salary on “Empire,” which, of course, is a terrible excuse for staging a hate crime against himself. However, the Chicago PD has a sketchy history of controversies and crises of accountability dating as far back as the 1960s. The department has repeatedly taken heat for use of excessive force, lack of oversight and inadequate training. It remains to be seen whether their shaky relationship with the city of Chicago will factor into Smollett’s case.

Whether or not the responses from politicians and celebrities were deemed appropriate, the reality of instant news and social media is this: the general public expects a quick response to reassure their current beliefs or make their own political cases.

Some people with strong political affiliations want a solid and permanent record of someone’s opinion or views that can be scrutinized. We often hold celebrity opinions and statements in higher esteem than those of our peers and local community.

The best thing we can do for now is table our outrage until more evidence surfaces and the investigation plays out. Then and only then should we make our judgment calls.

– The Voice