An open letter in solidarity with Jussie Smollett and all targeted by police misconduct
OPINION: Angela Davis, Danny Glover and other activists demand justice for the 'Empire' star
We, the undersigned, appeal to you to join us as we stand in solidarity with artist and activist Jussie Smollett.
As we focus on keeping our loved ones and those most socially vulnerable safe and healthy during these times of COVID-19 and of White nationalism in the White House, we remain painfully aware of the police crimes that continue to plague our communities, having claimed precious lives in the last months.
At a time when the people of Chicago are demanding community control of the police and when our movement for Black Lives demands that police be defunded and demilitarized, Chicago police and prosecutors continue to expend precious public resources to cover up a hate crime and renew their fabricated case against Jussie Smollett.
Jussie faces false charges of felony disorderly conduct and is still being forced to fight back against a relentless and vicious smear campaign initiated by the Chicago Police Department and uncritically disseminated by the media.
We believe Jussie, not the CPD.
An actor who broke new ground as a leading Black gay character in the award-winning TV show Empire, Jussie has always been active in social justice movements, especially against police terror, homophobia, environmental injustice and global poverty.
Over the years he has offered generous support to HIV/AIDS organizations and to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. During the 2018 midterm elections, Jussie personally campaigned and used his social media platforms to urge support for anti-Trump candidates. As a result, he was hit with a barrage of attacks, including overtly racist and homophobic threats.
In January 2019, Jussie received a death threat with the return address “MAGA” and an image of a noosed figure hanging from a tree. Just one week later, on Jan. 29, Jussie was physically assaulted by two masked men who noosed him, shouted homophobic epithets, and yelled “This [is] MAGA country n***!”
The CPD investigated but refused to make public any of their findings that corroborated Jussie’s account of the attack. For example, a security guard at a Sheraton Hotel near Jussie’s apartment saw two masked men running by, one “a white male in his 20s.”
A neighbor saw a White man with a rope hanging from his pocket waiting outside Jussie’s apartment. Outrageously, police concealed these eyewitness statements that are in the police reports. In addition, CPD claims that a motion-activated video camera turned off just as the attack on Smollett began. They then concocted a media narrative to spread deception.
Even some of us who are aware of the history of racism and repression linked to the Chicago Police Department failed to question this narrative. We ask why so many were so quick to believe the CPD.
The department is legendary for its history of racial terror and cover-up — from the assassination of Fred Hampton in 1969 to the murder of Laquan MacDonald in 2014 and the torture of over one hundred Black men over the last decades, leading to the passage of the 2015 Reparations for Burge Torture Victims ordinance by the Chicago City Council.
Many allegations have been made against the very officers who investigated Jussie’s case, charging cover-up, hate speech, false arrest, excessive force, and torture. What’s more, former CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who led the Smollett investigation and made several national media appearances, was later fired for lying and other unethical acts.
In face of felony charges that he staged the attack, Jussie has never wavered in his description of what occurred. The main evidence proffered by CPD in support of the charges is the coerced statement of brothers Abel and OIa Osundairo. Abel had been employed by Jussie as his personal trainer. Ola, known to Chicago police through an unrelated case, had previously faced charges of attempted murder but pled to a lesser charge.
When investigating Jussie’s case, CPD searched the brothers’ apartment and claimed to turn up a cache of illegal arms and drugs. Police detained the brothers, giving them 48 hours — the maximum police may hold suspects without charge — to confess or implicate Jussie.
Initially, they refused. But after 47 hours of detention and high-pressure interrogation, the brothers relented. Unsurprisingly, after co-operating and incriminating Jussie, they were released without charges.
The CPD claim that Jussie staged the hate crime to boost his salary was repudiated by FOX executives. Actually, gaining ever-greater prominence, Jussie was in high demand for new projects, including starring in a new Broadway production, directing Empire episodes, and starring in two feature films.
The CPD never had the evidence to prove that Jussie falsified his account, leading them to manufacture dubious and unsupported claims and motives. Seeing the writing on the wall, in March 2019, the State’s Attorney dismissed all charges.
But the hounding didn’t stop. In February 2020, special prosecutor Dan Webb re-indicted Jussie. Webb’s clients include Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and other Trump associates. This relentless political persecution has been fodder for statements from the highest echelons of power: Trump denounced Jussie during 11 of 16 campaign stops in 2019, equating the hate crime with impeachment, both “scams.”
The Trump administration continued to slander Jussie with the early July 2020 false announcement that the noose found in Black race car driver Bubba Wallace‘s garage was “a hoax” just as Jussie Smollett’s claim he was a victim of a hate crime was “a hoax.”
We believe this case is being used to distract us from the countless acts of racial injustice perpetrated by police against Black people and LBGTQ people and particularly in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and many others.
We’ve seen this before. We stand with Jussie and all persons targeted by hate crimes, police misconduct, and the Trump administration. Please join us. Let us vindicate Jussie Smollett and all those subjected to state-sanctioned violence and repression.
Melina Abdullah, Academic, Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles
Gina Belafonte, Activist, Artist, Executive Director, Sankofa.org
Gwen Carr, Activist, Mother of Eric Garner
Angela Y. Davis, Activist, Academic, Author
Fania E. Davis, Activist, Civil Rights Attorney, Restorative Justice Practitioner
Gina Dent, Activist, Academic
Danny Glover, Activist, Actor
LisaGay Hamilton, Activist, Actress
Ericka Huggins, Activist, Educator, former Black Panther Party Leader
Robin D.G. Kelley, Activist, Academic, Author
Tiq Milan, Activist, Author
Angela Robinson, Film and TV Director
Linda Sarsour, Activist, Co-chair of 2017 Women’s March
What you can do:
- Share this public statement on social media
- Sign the petition to drop the charges http://chng.it/RqDLBDsqzr
- Visit website: https://thejussiesmollettcase.wordpress.com/
- ) Additional info: Thejussiesmollettcase@gmail.com
Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!