If you’ve turned on the TV, gone on Twitter, or read the news in the last week, you most likely will have read the rollercoaster coverage surrounding Jussie Smollett.
The details of the Jan. 29 assault were sickening. But now, the police allege he fabricated the entire story.
The news coverage of his alleged lies has touched every corner of the media, from the near-hourly CNN coverage to a trending Twitter “moment,” and has outshined any other news.
Eddie Johnson, superintendent of the Chicago police, said of this phenomenon, “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention.”
This sentiment rings true even on a national level. While the attention has been on this one case, it’s true that incidents of hate and virulent violence are on the rise. On Feb. 15, a Coast Guard lieutenant was charged with allegedly planning a domestic terror attack “on a scale rarely seen in this country,” according to court documents.
NPR reported the accused was a “a self-described white nationalist,” who intended to target primarily Democratic and liberal lawmakers. This story has been featured in a smattering of publications in print and online, but has not been part of a larger discourse about the safety of our country.
President Donald J. Trump tweeted at Jussie Smollett, saying, “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
But his favorite platform is glaringly missing any mention of the suspect who dreamed of murdering Trump’s fellow lawmakers – a move that should easily be condemned by everyone, regardless of political affiliation.
The politicization of the Smollett case has prevented people on both sides of the aisle from seeing clearly. Democrats are too busy retracting their support from Smollett, and Republicans have been quick to jump down the throats of anyone who voiced their disgust over the first reported attack.
In his alleged greed, Smollett has caused irreparable damage to the lives of the people who will doubtless be the victims of hate crimes in the future, and whose reports will be met with, “Is this just another Jussie Smollett situation?”
Americans have been hyper-focused on this rare occurance of a falsely reported hate crime because it is easier to believe instances of racism are fabricated.
As the country sets its eyes on Chicago, perhaps it’s time to look at how the city has been plagued by the same violence the alleged domestic terrorist threatened – gun violence.
According to data from The Chicago Tribune, of the 28 people killed by gun violence in Chicago by Feb. 9, half were black. The remainder were Asian, Hispanic, or unknown. None were identified as white.
We should be focusing our resources on this crisis, as Johnson said during his press release.
But, to put it plainly, it doesn’t appear as though Americans take violence against people of color seriously. And when people around the country do, conservatives are gleefully happy to prove their rare empathy wrong.
The depth and breadth of the Smollett coverage, in relation to the sparse conversations around gun violence in Chicago and domestic terrorism, reveal that Americans are truly concerned with upholding a system that values whiteness over people of color and their experiences of systematic, racialized violence.
Smollett’s actions shouldn’t be minimized, but with the overexposure of this case, our attentions should not waver from the long-standing tradition of institutionalized American racism.