Actor Jussie Smollett speaks with members of the media after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. This morning in court it was announced that all charges were dropped against the actor. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
**FILE** Actor Jussie Smollett speaks with members of the media after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. This morning in court it was announced that all charges were dropped against the actor. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Jussie Smollett is breathing a lot easier these days, saying he feels “vindicated” after prosecutors did an about-face and dropped all charges against the “Empire” star Tuesday, March 23 — nearly five weeks after he first told Chicago police that he had been the target of an anti-gay, racist attack in the city by two unknown assailants.

And while he’s agreed to do community service as well as forfeit the $10,000 he paid to get out of jail, (I guess to help pay for the time that Chicago cops put into the case), it comes as little consolation for the mudslinging and character assassination Smollett’s faced at the hands of once ardent fans and foes alike who called him everything from a liar seeking to get a raise by any means necessary to a homosexual caught in the throes of a failed, late-night sexual “hookup.”

The shocking news came just one day after the show’s creator told the media that the popular show was in danger of being canceled by network execs following two consecutive weeks of dismal ratings. But the real caveat, perhaps, is that the news further confirms countless reports about the Chicago Police Department and its propensity for allowing corruption to run amok within its ranks, particularly when it comes to encounters with African Americans.

Technically, Smollett has been granted a “deferred prosecution” which means the criminal case is over and that his record will be wiped clean, reportedly so the police can turn their sights on more violent crimes and focus on the improving the public’s safety. His guilt or innocence as it relates to his actions and the 16 felony charges which he subsequently faced is irrelevant — a moot point — except perhaps in the court of public appeal.

Clearly, the case has been divisive from the start with those either supporting or criticizing Smollett changing their opinions about as frequently as one changes their underclothes. Further, the entire fiasco has been trending on social media and served as a hot topic for talk show hosts as much as Donald Trump and his incessant demand for a wall that a majority of Americans find pointless, excessively expensive and incapable of producing the alleged result of greater safety along the southern borders.

Meanwhile, both the police chief and mayor of Chicago continue to stand by the validity of the investigation, asserting that Smollett staged the entire episode for his own personal gain and decrying the prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges with great indignation. But it begs the question: where was the sense of righteous indignation when Chicago’s finest took aim with deadly force, killing innocent brothers like Jemel Roberson, Laquan McDonald — even Fred Hampton decades ago?

Where was Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his indignation when 16-year-old Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island after being falsely charged with stealing a backpack, spending nearly two of his three years there in solitary confinement while he awaited his trial — committing suicide shortly after finally receiving justice and being released because of the abuse he’d suffered during his imprisonment?

As for the recent shockwaves that have come in the Smollett case, whatever happened to his alleged co-conspirators, brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo? Their attorney has said the two agreed to help Smollett due to their friendship with him and because they believed he was willing to help them with their careers. Did they lie? Were they really part of Smollett’s scheme?

I wonder if they collaborated on their claims of skullduggery after their one-day junket back to the Motherland where they were undoubtedly rebuked by their elders, family and friends in their native country of Nigeria, where homosexuality is viewed with great disdain. Inquiring minds want to know.

I suppose Jussie can put the whole thing behind him, resume his career and get on with his life. But will this case set a precedent for the future? What will happen when someone with far less power, money and prestige faces a life-threatening altercation with a nutcase, bound and determined to cause harm to another simply because one or more persons hell-bent on causing harm to them because they’re Black, gay or both? Will they be believed or will they too be mocked and scorned?

Once upon a time in America, one was presumed innocent until proven guilty. But that was before enlightened citizens of the 21st century had deemed it necessary to draw a line in the sand, choosing sides based on one’s skin color or sexual orientation, among other differences. One’s guilt or innocence now rests on where one fits, if they fit at all, in society. Perhaps we should simply follow the decree of #45 and “make America great again.”

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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