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Hoax or Hate Crime?

Jussie Smollett, the television celebutante starring in the Chicago-based series Empire, is black, gay, and empowered. Now he adds victim of an insidious hate crime to his curriculum vitae – an offense so egregious, President Donald Trump told reporters “It’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse.” [perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”24″]…the pieces of the puzzle aren’t quite fitting snugly together.[/perfectpullquote]

According to the incident report from Chicago Police Department, Smollett claims he was advanced upon by two masked men, who taunted him with racial and homophobic slurs: “The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim. At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck.”

If this claim is proven true, Trump is indeed correct, and swift and equal justice must be applied. Yet five days later, amidst accusations and allegations, the pieces of the puzzle aren’t quite fitting snugly together.

Puzzle Pieces

In the bitterly cold, early morning hours on a windy Chicago street, Smollett, having just flown into town, was headed home after catching a bite at a local sub shop. Here, he claims he was set upon by MAGA thugs.

But Smollett did not call 9-1-1 after the alleged incident – instead, he continued to walk to his apartment in the 300 block of East North Water Street, proceeded past security guards without stopping to ask for help or to explain what he had just survived, and ended up in a friend’s apartment. All of this is on security video from the building’s lobby.

Jussie Smollett

Some 40 minutes later, police were summoned to find Smollett wearing a rope “loosely” around his neck like a tie, a scratch on his face, and refusing to allow body cams to record the interview. He then went on his own to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. His injuries, bruises and a visible scratch, were not life threatening, and the actor clearly heardwas released in “good” condition.

In a follow up interview with local police, Smollett elaborated on his account, claiming the attackers were wearing ski masks and that they yelled, “This is MAGA country.” Many local Chicagoans familiar with the swanky Streeterville neighborhood began wondering aloud if the attack actually took place – a location where redneck, white supremacists in the wee hours of the morning were not likely to be seen, let alone lying in wait for Smollett in -23 degree temperatures.

But Smollett and his music manager, Brandon Z. Moore, claim they were on the phone together at the time of the attack, and that Moore clearly heard racial slurs. Neither Smollett nor Moore have turned their phones over to Chicago PD for verification.

Chicago Police have scoured every available security camera – public and private – hoping to find the attack and work backward to identify the unknown subjects. So far, they have video of Smollett alone at the sub shop and two figures braving the bitter temperatures on the other side of the street, yet no footage of the Empire actor and the two unknown “persons of interest” near each other. They have released vague descriptions at best – attackers were male and dressed in black – but they cannot identify the race of the suspects.

No smoking gun. What sent red flags for those following the story was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tweet: “Obviously the alleged statement of what happened here is horrific and there’s no place for it here in the city of Chicago.” Alleged statement?

Local ABC news affiliate reporter, Rafer Weigel, a local born and raised, is keeping real time of events surrounding the story, reporting that a dozen detectives have found nothing to corroborate Smollett’s claims.

Proof or Another #MeToo Moment?

Smollett finally released his statement to the public to thank his well-wishers and assure them that he is doing well in light of the trauma he supposedly suffered and that he is righteous in the telling of his story:

“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level. Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”

If Smollett was the victim of a heinous hate crime, the perpetrators must be hunted down as criminals and brought to a swift and righteous end with jail time to the fullest extent of the law. But if this is just an elaborate hoax or cover-up of a personal or publicity nature, justice will be served in more public and retaliatory fashion. Okay Chicago PD, the ball is in your court – don’t miss the shot.

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