Put aside for a moment the truth of what befell or did not befall actor Jussie Smollett, and I’ll put aside the fact that I had never heard of him until a few weeks ago.
Instead of the "specifics" of the case, let’s look at the reaction: liberals saw the alleged attack on Mr. Smollett as another incident of homophobia and racism in this increasingly white supremacist country. When Smollett’s story became leaky, conservatives pounced on it as another example of liberal media bias piling on poor Donald Trump, an inadvertent admission that yes, Trump is the nation's bigot.
But look beyond that. Our reaction to a gay black man being beaten up in an apparent racially motivated homophobic attack should have been outrage, regardless of political leanings. And our reaction now that it may have been staged should be the same—though the object of our disaffection may have changed.
But the belief that Smollett has made it more difficult for people of color or the LGBTQ community to report hate crimes is absurd. It's already nigh on impossible. If Smollet had been white and straight, would a police official in Chicago have stood up at a press conference and said, “I hope he realizes that he’s ruined crime-reporting for white people.” Not likely. (Note: my comment about ruining it for white people does not apply to women. They know the pitfalls of reporting a crime in a country that is, not only racist and homophobic, but also misogynistic. Rape, by all measures a hate crime, goes unreported for just that reason.)
I watched that Chicago press conference yesterday, the laborious account of how the CPD had caught Smollett. I was shocked afterwards to learn that Smollett had not confessed: the police made it sound as though he had.
If you felt sorry for Jussie Smollett, that’s fine. Normal. And if you feel angry now. That's fine too. But let’s get the whole thing adjudicated first. And afterwards, if the man is guilty, let’s not saddle him with the guilt of “ruining it” for every other gay and/or black man in America, any more than Patrick Frazee ruined missing persons reports for whites. (Frazee, you’ll remember, is the Colorado man who last year reported his wife missing after he had beaten her to death.) I don't remember any police official excoriating Frazee for embarrassing white people. Maybe I missed it.
Frazee and Smollett, in essence, told the same lie, wasted the same police work, and engendered the same anger and disappointment.
But Mr. Frazee is a straight, white, male, like me. Oh by the way, he's a vicious murderer. Even so, I don't remember thinking when he was apprehended, "well, trouble for us white people." I don't remember thinking that at all.