Jussie Smollett, a popular actor and singer-songwriter, was recently arrested and charged with filing a false police report.
Smollett alleged that he was attacked in late January by two white men who spewed racist and homophobic slurs as they assaulted him.
A standout detail was his claim that the assailants said, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett has been very critical of the Trump administration and said he believed this was some sort of retaliation.
Originally viewed as the victim, Smollett is now accused of orchestrating his own attack.
This has created an uproar. Smollett’s attack was a major news story, and a plethora of public figures expressed support for him. The public isn’t only shocked but also outraged by the latest accusations — especially survivors of hate crimes.
This situation hits close to home. Though I was never physically assaulted, I’ve been targeted for harassment due to my sexuality.
It’s been a challenging journey navigating between two crucial factors of my identity; I am both Black and gay. In the spring of 2015, a fake advertisement was posted on a college social app. The advertisement listed my college apartment number and was advertising for men to come over.
It was written as if it were a woman. I was gone at the time, but men began coming to my apartment looking for sex. My classmate who lived in my complex saw the ad and let me know.
It was embarrassing because other students had seen the ad. I contacted both campus security and the police. Nothing happened. I still have no closure on this incident.
In the fall of 2015, I was leaving class with a friend. A car followed us while its passengers yelled homophobic slurs at me, chasing me into a corner. This was caught on tape by security cameras.
I alerted campus security, and although they saw the clear visuals on the tape, nothing happened. Since it was a verbal bashing, they didn’t think it was a real threat (never mind my being chased by a car).
It was a Christian university. Since then, I’ve always wondered what they would do if I were a straight, white male who was verbally bashed and chased with evidence on tape.
Though both of these events left an impact, I’m lucky that it was no worse. Due to the current divisive state of our country, hate crimes have been on the rise across most categories.
In particular, there’s been a spike in hate crimes regarding race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign reported that in 2017, 29 transgender individuals were brutally killed. This is the highest ever recorded — though the 26 transgender individuals murdered last year comes close.
In fact, hate crimes have been on the rise for three consecutive years, according to the FBI. As a Black man and a gay man — a member of two marginalized groups often targeted — this is a source of constant fear and anxiety.
Unlike Smollett’s case, which was an extremely rare case of possible false reporting, rights groups estimate that far more real incidents go unreported.
Hatred is still prevalent. Whether verbal or physical, these attacks are very real and can carry fatal outcomes. The Jussie Smollett episode shouldn’t distract us from this. One man may have lied, but the real story is how many lives are still threatened.
Please don’t stop supporting victims of hate crimes or advocating for justice.
OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online — all it takes is a simple attribution to OtherWords.org. To get a roundup of our work each Wednesday, sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.