The absolutely ludicrous trial of Jussie Smollett concluded last week and the verdict surprised nearly no one. The “Empire” actor was found guilty on five counts of felony disorderly conduct by a Chicago jury for making false reports to police that he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019.
The jury found that Smollett, who is Black and gay, made false reports to police after paying Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo to carry out a staged hate crime attack against him to garner sympathetic media coverage.
Before the trial, the story became instant fodder for social media and comedians, such as Dave Chappelle, who could see through the hoax.
While Smollett’s case may be wildly absurd, his false report is no laughing matter. What he did was a disservice to real victims of hate crimes in this country.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Inflamed racial tensions over the last few years, coupled with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, have caused an increase in reported hate crimes, according to the Department of Justice. Hate crimes increased 6.1% in 2020, spiking to its highest number since 2008 — no coincidence the same year a Black man was elected President of the United States.
Hate crimes disproportionately impact African Americans. According to the FBI, nearly 35% of all reported hate crimes in 2020 were perpetrated against Blacks.
“These statistics show a rise in hate crimes committed against Black and African-Americans, already the group most often victimized,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
In Sacramento, we have seen a spike in hate crimes against Blacks on school campuses. Earlier this year, there was an incident of hate speech at Kit Carson International Academy in June when a Spanish teacher at the middle school was caught on tape using the n-word.
Noah Razo, a 15-year-old student at Kit Carson, said the teacher used to use “the n-word with the hard ‘r’” often. “She just said it regularly with a normal tone, like it was a normal thing to say,” Razo said.
Just last month, Dr. Elysse Versher, vice principal of West Campus High School, suffered a number of seizures after becoming the victim of several hateful incidents: someone marking up a wall near her assigned parking spot with the n-word and students referring to her as, “black ni**er, black b**ch, black Hitler” on social media. Her home address was shared on social media, and she said two adults, believed to be siblings of a friend of a student, came to campus and made in-person threats.
“We have to call it out. This is hate speech,” the traumatized administrator said. “This is not graffiti. To reduce it to graffiti makes it seem trivial.”
Sean Ragan, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI Sacramento Field Office, addressed hate crimes in a guest commentary that appeared in The OBSERVER in October.
“Hate crimes have a devastating impact on our communities by striking fear in those who live there,” Ragan wrote. “These crimes hurt everyone in the community. We cannot let these acts continue any longer. We must not let hate win.”
These real-life incidents — and thousands like them that go on in cities across the country — make charades like the one Smollett tried to pull incredibly frustrating.
Blacks have suffered for generations at the hands of slave masters, Jim Crow, Reconstruction, Segregation and flat-out jealousy and hatred. In other words, it’s hard enough being Black — we don’t need to make anything up.
If you believe you are a victim or a witness of a hate crime, please report it to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting a tip at https://tips.fbi.gov/. You can make a report anonymously.
Larry Lee is the publisher of the Sacramento Observer.