It was a stunning moment.
Standing outside court, emotional Empire star Jussie Smollett looked close to tears as he spoke, just minutes after all 16 grand jury charges against him had been sensationally dropped.
‘I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,’ he said. ‘I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of faith, and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this, I just wouldn’t.’
His bottom lip trembled as he added: ‘I’d like nothing more than just to get back to work and move on with my life but make no mistakes I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalised people everywhere.’
As I watched him speak, so eloquently and so powerfully, I felt a surge of sympathy welling inside me for this poor misjudged young man who had just been cleared of staging a race-hate, homophobic attack on HIMSELF.
It’s hard to imagine a worse thing for a high profile black, gay man in America to be accused of doing.
And I actually felt a sense of relief that it had all turned out to be untrue and that he really was the good, innocent, ‘sweetest guy in the world’ his famous friends had insisted all along.
But as he posed for pictures with celebrating fans, there was something nagging me.
Shortly before Smollett appeared to speak to the media, it was revealed that he had forfeited $10,000 bond money and secretly performed 16 hours of community service at Rainbow Push, a civil rights organisation in Chicago.
These two things had apparently been ‘factored into’ the decision to drop charges.
Why, if he was an innocent man?
Like many journalists, I was bemused.
‘So weird,’ I tweeted, ‘why would you pay a forfeiture if you’d been cleared?’
First Assistant’s State’s Attorney Joe Magats, the man who made the decision, soon answered this puzzling conundrum during one of the most embarrassing, shifty, excuse-laden displays I have ever seen from a prosecutor trying to defend a decision.
‘Does dropping the charges vindicate him?’ he was asked by CBS.
Does it exonerate him?
‘Do you believe that he is innocent?’
‘I do not believe he’s innocent.’
‘So you believe he’s guilty?’
You dropped all charges against him because he’s GUILTY?
At this point my bemusement turned to cold fury.
Smollett hadn’t been cleared at all.
He’d staged the ‘attack’, but was being let off with effectively just a small fine and a bit of community work. His record would be expunged and the files sealed forever from public gaze.
Magats inferred this was sufficient punishment because Smollett had no criminal record, and did not represent a threat to public safety.
But the decision smacked of a disgraceful stitch-up, driven by Smollett’s wealth and fame, his connections to powerful politicians, and the furore surrounding the case.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel was in no doubt.
‘This is a whitewash of justice,’ he raged. ‘This is a person who has been let off scot-free with no sense of the accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions… how DARE he?’
He compared it to the elite college admissions scandal, saying: ‘This sends a clear message if you’re in a position of influence and power you’ll get treated one way and other people will get treated another way. This is wrong.’
And he warned: ‘Gay men and women who will come forward and one day say they were a victim of a hate crime now will be doubted.’
Emmanuel wasn’t the only high profile Democrat to express anger at the outcome.
David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s former Chief Strategist, blazed on Twitter: ‘Here’s the lesson of this weird turn in the Smollett case: you can contrive a hate crime, make it national news, get caught and – if you are well-connected celebrity – get off for $10k and have your record expunged and files sealed. Hate crimes are loathsome. Faking them is insidious and shouldn’t be excused. It really is outrageous.’
Yes, it is.
I watched Smollett’s court statement again, now I knew he was lying again.
It was a very convincing performance, almost as convincing as his performance on Good Morning America when he first recounted his story to Robin Roberts and garnered the nation’s horrified sympathy.
One thing’s for sure – Smollett is a GREAT actor.
Sadly, both his performances were just as fake as the original staged ‘attack’.
Last month, when the charges were first made, I accused Smollett of being ‘the most hideous, reprehensible, disgusting, snivelling little liar in America.’
I said he was a ‘sickening, shameful disgrace’ who had lynched the truth in the most despicable manner possible and deserved ‘no mercy and no sympathy.’
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who trashed Smollett in similarly robust terms at the time, said yesterday that the city ‘is still owed an apology.’
Well it’s not going to get one from Jussie ‘I didn’t do it!’ Smollett.
But I would like to make an apology instead, to Smollett himself, and it’s this: I’m truly sorry that I was so complimentary about him.
In fact, I wish I’d gone in much harder.
For the truth is Smollett wasn’t content with just perpetrating an act of wicked deception that grabbed global headlines and made a mockery of real victims of racial or homophobic attacks.
No, he had to go a step further even than that and pretend he’s been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing and is once again the victim – not just of the original ‘attack’, but now of a terrible slur against his good name and reputation.
By doing this, he has confirmed himself to be a truly despicable human being.
It takes a rare kind of execrable douchebag to invoke his mother, God, black history, justice, equality and the ‘betterment of marginalised people’ as he brazenly lies about being cleared over an incident that did unbelievable damage to justice, equality and marginalised people.
But staggeringly, Smollett’s not even the worst villain in this disgusting saga.
That badge of dishonour goes to the State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her team including her hapless First Assistant Magats.
Foxx officially recused herself from the case after she was found to have exchanged text messages with a member of Smollett’s family in the days after the incident.
Now it’s been alleged that she tried to wrestle the case out of the hands of the Chicago Police Department and have the FBI take it over, at the request of Smollett family friend Tina Tchen, who is Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
At the very least, it appears that her team acted on her apparent conflicted desire to protect Smollett from facing proper justice – a shameful, breathtakingly cynical example of the very worst kind of racial politics.
The result of this shocking carve-up is that Smollett walks away a free man with no criminal stain on his record.
Fortunately, there’s another court he now has to face and that’s the court of public opinion.
Nobody apart from Smollett’s family and a few of his deluded celebrity friends is buying this travesty.
Smollett lynched the truth, caused immeasurable harm to real victims, betrayed America’s black and gay communities, and thinks he’s got away with it.
His reward for all this shouldn’t be a return to his $100,000-an-episode life as a feted TV star.
Smollett should be fired from Empire, banished from Hollywood and treated like the pariah he deserves to be, by an industry that supposedly prides itself on tolerance.
This wouldn’t fully atone for such a grotesque insult to justice, but it would help.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Piers Morgan