Jussie Smollett speaks to the media after all charges against him were dropped at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on March 26, 2019.

CHICAGO — When a grand jury revived the criminal case against Jussie Smollett, the indictment for many people called to mind two nights on two different streets in the same big city.

On one Chicago street was a wealthy, famous black man who claimed he was a victim of a racist, anti-gay attack. On the other street was a black teenager shot 16 times by a white police officer.

A day after Smollett was charged for a second time with staging the attack, the two cases reopened divisive arguments about the role of race and class in the justice system and what fairness looks like.

“The integrity of the legal system is at stake,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law. If Smollett “would have walked away, everybody would have thought there is no justice in Cook County.”

A special prosecutor decided to prosecute Smollett again, 11 months after county prosecutors dropped charges that the “Empire” actor hired two men to fake the attack to further his career. He has maintained his innocence.

Delmarie Cobb, a local media and political consultant, said she thinks less about Smollett’s account of what happened, which she never believed, than about the 2014 fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald and how it took the city a year to release the dashcam video – only after a judge ordered it – and to charge the officer with murder.

“As a black person, I am insulted by the whole thing and ... all I can think about is 16 counts versus 16 shots,” she said, referring to the number of counts of disorderly conduct that prosecutors originally charged Smollett with.

She wondered about all the anger expressed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and others who blasted Smollett for lying to police and smearing the city after evidence pointed to a conspiracy to mislead authorities and drum up publicity. “Where was the outrage when Laquan McDonald was killed in the year before we discovered the video?” she asked.

What is more outrageous, Cobb said, was watching the police department throw dozens of officers working hundreds of hours onto Smollett’s case, which involved no injuries, while giving far less attention to the hundreds of shooting deaths elsewhere in the city.

Erickson and others suggested that Smollett’s case also raises serious questions about political influence.

They say special prosecutor Dan Webb’s investigation was important because of what happened in the days after Smollett was first charged: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx communicated with a member of Smollett’s family at the request of Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.

Her actions, critics say, sent a powerful message to anyone who was paying attention. “This told everyone if you have the right friends, you can get away with it,” Erickson said.

Foxx said she recused herself from the matter before her office secured an indictment against Smollett, but she continued to weigh in throughout the case. She has suggested the criticism does have a lot to do with race – her race.

On Wednesday, it was not lost on her that the six-count indictment came just weeks before an election in which Foxx’s opponents are using her handling of the Smollett case against her.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.