It began as an alleged hate crime committed against TV actor Jussie Smollett on a downtown Chicago street at 2 a.m. It then careened into charges that Smollett staged the attack to benefit his career. And now this:
After Cook County, Ill., State’s Attorney Kim Foxx makes errors of judgment that lead her to recuse herself, after Chicago detectives spend thousands of man hours doing meticulous work, after police Superintendent Eddie Johnson excoriates Smollett publicly for dragging the city’s name through the mud, after Foxx’s prosecutors take the case before a grand jury, after the grand jurors indict Smollett on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct —— after all that, prosecutors shock Chicagoans and the rest of the country Tuesday with news that they’re dropping all charges against Smollett.
That is, Foxx’s office essentially says: Never mind. No big deal. Move along.
It’s an indefensible decision, a deal hashed out in secret, with — this is outrageous — Smollett not even required to take ownership of his apparent hoax. Not even required to apologize for allegedly exploiting hate crime laws. And not even required to reimburse Chicago taxpayers for the enormous cost of this investigation.
Chicagoans, Americans for that matter, will doubtless feel bamboozled by Foxx’s office, and used by Smollett.
“This is a whitewash of justice,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters, with Johnson at his side. “Where is the accountability in the system? You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else.”
Emanuel spoke for Chicago: Accountability, or lack of it, is at the heart of Tuesday’s stunner. Smollett walks, merely forfeiting the $10,000 cash bond he had posted. Emanuel says that essentially means the forfeiture was a fine — $10,000 in exchange for an expungement. And to make matters even more opaque, Cook County Judge Steven Watkins orders the public court file sealed.
The events are familiar, starting with the January morning at the center of the case. Smollett claimed he was attacked by two men who struck him, hurled slurs at him and, in a nod to President Donald Trump, shouted, “This is MAGA country!” Later, Chicago police and prosecutors detailed plentiful evidence and told America it was all a hoax perpetrated by Smollett, an actor on the show “Empire,” to further his career.
But don’t forget what happened between Smollett’s report and his indictment: The Police Department of a violent city with a low homicide clearance rate devoted tremendous resources to unraveling a hate crime that never occurred.
Instead, prosecutors Tuesday issued this statement: “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, who took charge of the case after Foxx’s recusal, denied that dropping the charges signaled weak evidence or a desire for secrecy. “It’s a mistake and it’s wrong to read into the decision that there was something wrong or that we learned something about the case that we didn’t already know,” Magats told the Tribune.
So what’s the real story here? If prosecutors advanced a solid case this far, why not forge ahead and declare that there’s a price to pay for wasting police resources in a city with so much gun violence? From Tuesday’s Tribune: “A young mother was shot and killed, her husband was critically wounded and their 1-year-old baby took a bullet to the knee in the West Pullman neighborhood on the Far South Side.” How did Jussie Smollett’s partial redeployment of Chicago’s detective force contribute to solving the host of such crimes that occur here relentlessly?
Unless there’s yet one more big revelation in this case that makes the prosecutors’ decision sensible, it will further erode citizens’ trust in law enforcement.
State’s Attorney Foxx, you recused yourself, but your office dropped the case. You owe Chicagoans answers. Starting with: When did you first learn of this indefensible deal? Why was it cut in secret? Why doesn’t Jussie Smollett have to own what he was accused of doing? Because like it or not, Ms. Foxx, you own this.