Hate crime or hoax? Wait and see

Published 6:44 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

By Kenya Smith

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett told the Chicago Police Department last month that two masked men attacked him and shouted racist and homophobic slurs. He also claimed that the perpetrators shouted, “This is MAGA country!”, doused him in a bleach-like substance and put a rope around his neck. As a result, the police classified the attack as a hate crime. After days of investigating, police located the two men involved. The men, who are personal trainers of Nigerian descent (both were born in the U.S.), claimed that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, and they provided their evidence. As a result, Smollett was arrested for making a false report. As of this week, some media outlets have retrieved a copy of the $3,500 check along with a copy of text messages between Smollett and one of the men.

Despite this incident, it is still a fact that hate crimes are a reality in today’s social climate.

The U.S. Justice Department reported that in 2017, there were 7,175 reported hate crime incident which included 7,106 single bias incidents and 69 multiple bias incidents. For single bias incidents, the numbers based on motivation for 2016 and 2017 are as follows:


• 2016 – 3,489

• 2017 – 4,131


• 2016 – 1,273

• 2017 – 1,564

Sexual Orientation

• 2016 – 1,076

• 2017 – 1,130

Gender Identity

• 2016 – 124

• 2017 – 119


• 2016 – 70

• 2017 – 116


• 2016 – 31

• 2017 – 46

If we calculate these numbers correctly, we would see that there were 1,043 more hate crimes in 2017 than 2016. While these statistics are 2-3 years old, recent reports have shown that these numbers are rising, and it is becoming quite clear thanks to the usage of social media and technology.

For example, a Florida woman who was arrested for a DUI made threatening statements to a black police officer such as, “My KKK friends will burn your family.” A gay man in Utah recorded a video of an intoxicated man who asks him about his sexuality and throws a punch after the victim said yes. This was after the man approached the victim and his friends and made homophobic and misogynistic statements. Black workers in Ohio sued General Motors because they found nooses and “whites only” signs at the plant where they worked. In West Virginia, a woman shouts “Get the **** out my country!” at workers at a Mexican restaurant because they were speaking Spanish.

If Smollett is found guilty, it will have a detrimental impact on today’s social climate. This situation will heighten the cause of those with hatred towards minorities and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer communities. Hate groups and individuals alike will have a reason to hate certain people. Even worse, when an actual violent hate crime happens, it would be even harder for victims to speak out because people will bring up this current incident to intimidate true victims, leaving the perpetrators off the hook.

We know there are individuals and organizations who have shown apathy towards the pain and the plight of minorities and the LGBTQ community from the very beginning, and they will try to use this incident to make themselves look good and to mock those who really do care. They are the ones who deny that racism exist and that homophobia is real. They were jeering and snickering about this situation last week. These are the same people who asked, “Oh, Where is the outrage of the black community? Where is the outrage of the LGBTQ community?” The answer is, since we now know more about the check and the text messages, the outrage needs to be put aside for a while until we know for sure what really happened.

Despite all of this chaos, let us not forget individuals like Emmett Till, the Birmingham Four, James Byrd Jr., Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, the Oak Creek Six, Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, the Charleston Nine, the Orlando 49, Blaze Bernstein and the Tree of Life 11. These individuals died because of their race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or gender identity. That being said, don’t let what is happening now with Smollett stop us from taking action and speaking out against bigotry.

Visit https://www.justice.gov/hatecrimes to learn more about hate crimes and to dive deeper into the statistics that were mentioned.

KENYA SMITH is an intern for The Tidewater News. She can be reached at 562-3187 or kenya.smith@tidewaternews.com.