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The cautionary warnings remain in the Smollett case

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx got it right and wrong. She blasted the Jussie Smollett prosecution for wasting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on what by any legal standard was a relatively trivial case. She lambasted vindictive police and prosecutors for their relentless determination to nail Smollett no matter what. There’s truth to this.

There’s also truth to her charge that dozens of Blacks have been gunned down in Chicago’s decade-long murder violence spree with nothing like the time and effort expended to put their killers behind bars as was the case with Smollett. This is a finger-point at the galling racial double standard that Black lives are cheap, especially when the killers are other Blacks. But when a Black offender commits a crime in which there is even the faintest hint that it challenges or embarrasses the white criminal justice system, then no time effort or expense is too much to slap a lengthy sentence on the Black violator.

Foxx got it wrong, though, in her implication that Smollett’s case has little real meaning in the larger legal and social scheme of things. There’s the larger problem that’s buried in Foxx’s charge and compounded by Smollett’s claim of a racist attack. Put simply, that’s the danger of crying racism when there is none, and the devastating continuing consequences of that.

I posted this Facebook warning immediately after the alleged attack: “Be careful on this.” The responses were swift and brutal. But they boiled down to “How dare you question that Smollett was anything other than a Black viciously assaulted by venomous, Trump-goaded racists?” Anything less than outrage at homophobic, Black-hating Trumpites was nothing short of racial heresy and spewing right-wing Fox News talking points.

The counterattack made some sense at the time. Smollett was young, Black, male and gay. These are attributes that seemingly made him a prime target. He also had an activist track record backing the parents of Trayvon Martin in their quest for justice in the murder of Trayvon. What didn’t make sense were the holes in his story. And what made even less sense was the history and danger of a knee-jerk scream of racism in cases such as this.

That history goes like this: A celebrated Black entertainer, athlete or official comes under withering fire for getting caught in a personal and or criminal indiscretion, wrongdoing, or malfeasance, and they scream race. The great damage done has nothing to do with the proverbial crying wolf. It has everything to do with taking the legitimate sting, public outrage, and action that real, not invented, racial acts stir. Manufacturing a racial assault, which almost always is sooner than later uncovered, does in fact give aid and comfort to the Fox News talking heads and those on the right who delight in pointing fingers at Blacks for eternally screaming race about everything. At the very least, it’s silly and counterproductive.

Smollett got the sentence and the punishment he deserved. Foxx got part of it right about the outsized effort to see that he did. But neither of those changes the fact that racist acts do happen, and Smollett notwithstanding, they can’t or shouldn’t be minimized.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.