One of the joys of a nation like ours, in a time like today’s, is that we all have an opinion, and we all have access to a technological platform to share said opinion.
One of the drawbacks, of course, is... see above.
Comment sections on social media, and, indeed, in all corners of the Internet, are often the cesspools of the uninformed, the misinformed and the flat-out rude. As I’m getting to the end of an online article that contains even the slightest essence of controversy, I often find myself cloaked in the deja vu sensation of driving past an accident scene — knowing that I should just keep rolling forward and not bother looking, but also knowing that I will. And I will instantly regret it when I do.
When news broke on Tuesday that the Illinois Attorney General’s Office was dropping all charges against actor Jussie Smollett for his alleged role in allegedly staging an attack that lit racial fires across this nation, it was with a true sense of dread that I just knew I was going to be dipping my toe into that wretched cesspool of Internet comments. The temptation was too much for me. Resistance was futile.
It was, as one might expect, filled with shock, disgust, racist rhetoric, anger, accusations, confusion and, being the Internet, littered with vulgarity, misspellings and unsubstantiated acts of libel. This was not a comment section filled with funny memes or trolls practicing one-upsmanship like so many others — it was overflowing with genuine frustration.
A frustration I wholeheartedly shared.
When I initially read the headline that all charges were being dropped against Smollett, my first reaction was, “Wow. What in the world did they find out? Was he telling the truth all this time?”
But then I read the article, which was predictably short on facts as it was a developing story. Then I read another article. And another. By the time I fell asleep Tuesday night, I had probably read 15 articles about it, and I reached one conclusion — none of this made any sense.
Consider, if you will...
• Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson: “Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is owed an apology.
“At the end of the day, it’s Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period. I heard that they wanted their day in court ... so America could know the truth, and they chose to hide behind a secrecy of a brokered deal to circumvent the judicial system.”
• Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, after saying that the grand jury that chose to indict Smollett only saw “a sliver” of the available evidence against him, via abcnews.go.com: “A person using hate crime laws that are on the books to protect people who are minorities, and you turn around and use them to advance your career? Is there no decency in this man?”
• First Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Magats, who announced the dismissal of charges against Smollett: “We believe he did what he was charged with doing,” via ABC. “... This was not an exoneration. To say that he was exonerated by us or anyone is not true.” He later said he was satisfied with Smollett forfeiting the 10 percent of a $100,000 bond that he had posted, and completing community service.
• Smollett, outside the courtroom: “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of.”
Now, I firmly believe in the glorious ideal that in this nation an accused person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m also of the opinion that more non-violent offenders should receive community service than prison time because they actually contribute something back to society through their mandated work, and possibly gain a different perspective that puts him or her on a different path in life. That being said...
What I don’t believe is Smollett’s story. And I know that it doesn’t matter one little bit what I believe or don’t believe, as we have a judicial system in place that is supposed to sort these types of things out for the rest of society. And there isn’t one shred of evidence that I either collected myself or reviewed in person, so my opinion, like nearly everybody else’s, is based on my interpretation on what has been released in the media.
I just don’t believe him. And now there won’t even be an opportunity for our judicial system to figure it out.
As for the argument that Smollett performed community service so, well, all is forgiven? I wouldn’t consider what he was accused of doing to be punishable by only community service. If he is in fact guilty of what he has been accused of doing, he endangered this nation by pushing it closer to the brink of a race or idealogical war. That deserves real punishment, if true.
And, if he’s innocent, which could have been revealed in court, then he blew his opportunity to show the world. And getting his bond back. And his name.
This whole thing smells. And it doesn’t smell good.