CHICAGO – The stunning twist in the case of gay African-American actor Jussie Smollett, who told police he was the victim of a hate crime but now has been charged with concocting the story, has caused surprise and outrage in this US city.
Smollett voluntarily turned himself in early Thursday and hours later was arraigned at the Cook County Courthouse, where he was released after posting 10 percent of a $100,000 bond.
The 36-year-old actor in the hit TV drama series “Empire” faces a charge of “disorderly conduct” for allegedly filing a false police report, a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that Smollett paid two Nigerian brothers $3,500 to help him simulate an attack in hopes of winning sympathy and furthering his career.
Earlier, Smollett allegedly sent a fake racist, homophobic and threatening letter to himself at the Chicago set of “Empire” in an unsuccessful attempt to garner the attention of the series’ producers.
“To stage a hate crime of that nature, when he knew as a celebrity it would get a lot of attention, is just despicable,” Johnson, who is also African-American, said. “Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
More than 20 detectives were assigned to investigate the report that Smollett filed on Jan. 29, he said at the news conference, adding that the defendant had choreographed the publicity stunt because he was dissatisfied with his salary.
Smollett said two white men wearing ski masks hit him in the face, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, draped a noose around his neck and splashed him with a chemical substance as he was walking alone in the wee hours of Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago.
The actor, who was hospitalized afterward, told police the attackers shouted “this is MAGA country,” a reference to conservative President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” Slogan.
Johnson, however, said Smollett’s injuries were mostly self-inflicted although he also received some blows from brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, who were arrested as possible suspects but later became cooperating witnesses.
“It makes you wonder what’s going on in someone’s mind to be able to do something like that. I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” the police superintendent said, referring to a racist symbol associated with lynchings of black people in the American South in the post-Civil War era.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also criticized the actor, saying he had put his “perceived self-interest” ahead of Chicago’s principles and “collective spirit.”
Trump, for his part, took to Twitter to weigh in on the case.
“@JussieSmollett – what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?” the president wrote.