CHICAGO — Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Thursday that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism” when he allegedly falsely reported that he was the victim of a hate crime.
Now Johnson and experts alike are worried about what his case could mean for victims of actual hate crimes.
“My concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen,” Johnson told reporters.
Johnson said Chicago police will not change the way they investigate hate crimes, and those who help victims say they want everyone who reports one to be believed.
While Smollett’s accusations are being investigated as an alleged fabrication, crimes fueled by racism, homophobia and other prejudiced views are on the rise, according to experts.
According to the latest numbers from the FBI, the number of hate crimes jumped 17 percent between 2016 and 2017, rising for a third straight year. The National Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking hate groups since the 1980s, said the number reached an all-time high this year.
But even the FBI’s statistics tell only part of the story: About 50% of hate crime victims don’t report the incidents to authorities, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Imani Rupert-Gordon is the executive director for Affinity Community Services, an organization that helps the African American LGBTQ community. She says she’s reserving judgement on Smollett.
“I don’t know the facts of the case; we have little about what his experience is, I think this is important time that we believe survivors,” Rupert-Gordon said.
The National Black Coalition for Justice put out a statement that read in part:
It is important for cases to be tried in legal courts, not courts of public opinion. While we know the allegations don’t look good for our brother Jussie, we will not be judge and jury.
Rupert-Gordon just hopes people can look beyond this one case.
“We have an opportunity to talk about how we can support survivors; that’s what this conversation should have always been,” Rupert-Gordon said.
Hate crime allegations show no signs of stopping, with plenty of examples reported in recent months.
“Rising hate crimes continue to be a reality in America,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said last December, after five reports of hate-related incidents made headlines in just four days.
Experts told CNN in December that there’s not a single factor that accounts for the disturbing trend, but part of the issue is the “increasing mainstream acceptance of hate speech and online hate,” Greenblatt said.
He added, “Words have consequences.”
While hate is not new to America, experts say the divisive political climate and the rise of hate speech, among other factors, are emboldening people to act on hateful impulses.