US actor’s allegedly fake assault could cause ‘real harm’: Report
CHICAGO American advocacy groups and police have a shared concern over the fallout from allegations that a gay black actor faked a hate-motivated assault: That future victims will face more scepticism even as hate crimes are on the rise.
Police have accused Jussie Smollett of engineering an elaborate hoax to exploit Americans' anxieties over political and racial divisions to generate publicity and a bigger pay cheque.
The star of the Fox drama Empire allegedly sent himself a threatening letter and then hired two acquaintances to stage a street attack in Chicago, complete with homophobic and racial slurs, while invoking President Donald Trump's Make American Great Again slogan.
Smollett, 36, is charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.
He was freed on Thursday last week on US$100,000 (S$140,000) bond.
"If true, then this is a disgraceful exploitation of many past victims of real hate crimes, many of whom have endured heinous suffering," Ms Kami Chavis, a former assistant US attorney said.
The actor's lawyers, in a defiant statement, criticised law enforcement's actions as an organised "spectacle" and maintained Smollett's innocence.
But whatever the final result, the case has left gay rights and racial justice advocates, along with government officials, worried about future victims.
"Bogus police reports cause real harm," an angry Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson said.
"My concern is that hate crimes will now be met with a level of scepticism that previously didn't happen."
The initial news of the purported attack at the end of January generated an outpouring of support for Smollett. But as the case - with disturbing details such as a rope allegedly put around Smollett's neck - appeared to turn, many who had rushed to condemn the attack were left struggling to respond.
The producers of Empire said Smollett would be removed from the final two episodes of the current season "to avoid further disruption on set". - AFP