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Jussie Smollett and Due Process: A Tale of Respect Gained and Lost for the Chicago Police Department


George Payne

Op-ed by George Payne:

The pain across the country is real. What Jussie Smollett supposedly did is unspeakable. He staged his own assault and blamed it on white people. If true, it is one of the most notorious acts of racism in recent memory. Even with what has occurred already, millions of victims of real hate crimes have felt belittled and taken advantage of because of his alleged lie. From a different angle, the Chicago Police Department squandered precious resources to find the assailants. Too many cops had to pay attention to a hoax and other lives were lost as result. In Chicago, if a police officer is called to one block instead of another, that could be the difference between life and death. Seen in that light, Smollett may have killed someone because of his own greed and insatiable desire for fame. And given the gravity of his deceit, it’s no wonder that the Chicago Superintendent of Police would say what he did in that press conference on CNN.

But let’s all slow down just a bit. Even if Smollett did exactly what the Chicago Police Department is excusing him of, he still deserves due process under the U.S. Constitution. He has not pleaded guilty to any crime. Nor has Mr. Smollett been given a fair hearing before a jury of his peers. He very well may have staged this whole fiasco. And by doing so, he may very well have destroyed not only his career but the priceless trust so many victims placed in his courageous testimony. That feeling may be gone forever.

Either way, Mr. Smollett deserves the cherished right to be innocent until proven guilty. The last time I checked, a person who has not confessed to a crime is not found guilty for committing that crime until 12 of his or her peers says so. Since when is it the duty of the Chicago Police Department to try and convict Jussie Smollett of anything? Their job is to investigate crimes and make arrests. They are not the body of criminal justice that determines guilt or innocence. There is a reason why Law and Order was so popular on TV for so long. The Law is what “we the people” say it is. Order is what the police must maintain. I don’t see how it is the role of a high ranking law enforcement agent to supersede his/her role by becoming a self- anointed judge, jury, and executioner. What do his personal feelings have to do with an ongoing investigation?

Has Mr. Smollett confessed or not? Is it possible that more layers may exist to this story than they thought of before? Were they not surprised by the confession of the two brothers from Nigeria? Did they not initially come out and say that they had reason to believe Mr. Smollett? So why should they jump to conclusions now? At any rate, it is inappropriate for a police department to say one way or another how and why someone committed a crime. All they should do is find the suspect and put them in front of the criminal justice system.

I want to be perfectly clear, Like everyone else, I have been used as a yo yo in this whole game of exploitation identity politics. Who knows which way is up anymore? I believed him and then I didn’t. I may believe him now or not. It doesn’t matter. The man still deserves a fair hearing before a court. If he confesses and pleads guilty that is another matter all together. But Mr. Smollett has not pleaded guilty to anything. So how is it appropriate for the Chicago Police Department to say that they know what he did, why he did it, and how he should be prosecuted? I thought we lived in a country where someone must be proven guilty of a crime before they are sentenced. If I may be so bold, making an arrest is not proving that someone is guilty of a crime.

I do not like what Mr. Smollett did or has been accused of doing. I don’t like it one bit. I would not be at all shocked if he is found guilty of staging this idiotic crime. With the head policeman in Chicago I agree that what Mr. Smollett has been accused of is terrible. Thinking pessimistically, there could not be a worse setback for the nation at this fragile time in our history.

But once again, Mr. Smollett has not confessed to any crime. In fact, he has purported to be a victim of a crime. Whether he is lying or telling the truth, he still deserves his time in court. When did it become acceptable for a police department to try a suspect on national television in a staged performance of their own? It’s wrong. It’s not American. It’s against our legal system. Even the most despised criminals deserved their day in court. If I may say it again, to be arrested is not the same as being found guilty.

Meanwhile, a deranged white supremacist U.S. Coast Guard officer nearly went haywire on a whole lot of people. If we thought Las Vegas was bad, what this guy had in mind was a lot worse. Madness. Just pure madness. But that man also deserves his day in court. If he pleads not guilty, he deserves to have legal representation. It’s really that simple. If this country cannot live by its most basic principles, than what is the point of being a country at all.

George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, and adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY. He lives and works in Rochester, NY. George’s letters and essays have been featured in a wide range of domestic and foreign outlets.

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