About Jussie Smollett


This Jussie Smollett story has really drained me the past month.

I’ve known Jussie for about eight years, and I’ve never known him to lie, so I had no reason not to believe his public account of an attack on him last month in Chicago. Yes, I admit that the details of the story seemed extreme, but so, too, are the details of our current political situation in America.

Not long ago, Nazis were marching openly with tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. A Trump supporter was recently arrested for sending pipe bombs to the offices of CNN. And just this week, we learned that a Coast Guard officer and self-proclaimed white supremacist has been arrested for plotting a mass terror attack on the United States. These are extreme times in America.

For Black LGBTQ people, the times are even more difficult. Just last month, Timothy Dean, a black gay man was found dead in the West Hollywood home of white Democratic political donor Ed Buck. He is Buck’s second victim in two years. The first victim, Gemmel Moore, was found dead in Buck’s apartment in July 2017. And Buck has still not been charged with a crime. This happened in “progressive” Los Angeles. And even before Ed Buck, I had seen many other examples of Black LGBTQ lives taken and devalued with little media attention.

In my previous job as president of the board of the National Black Justice Coalition, I saw these cases far too often. A black gay man named Marc Carson was shot and killed in “progressive” New York City, in the heart of the “gay” West Village, because of his sexual orientation. Another black gay man, Rashawn Brazell, was murdered and his body dismembered and strewn across the subways of Brooklyn in trash bags. Before that, I remember sitting in the living room of the family of 15-year-old Sakia Gunn, a young black lesbian who was murdered on the streets of Newark, New Jersey. Given that background, it’s not far-fetched to think a hate crime could take place in a “safe” neighborhood in downtown Chicago.

Perhaps the biggest and largely unreported tragedy in recent years is that dozens of black trans women have been killed in cities across the country, and very few people in the media, even in our own communities, seem to be aware of it.

Yes, some people argue that Jussie’s story, if it is proven false, will make it harder for future victims to be believed. That actually says more about America than it does about Jussie. Many Americans apparently are looking for excuses to deny the reality of hate crimes and violence in this country. Even when presented with video evidence, as we’ve seen in case after case after case on social media, some will try to deny what the rest of us see right in front of our eyes.

The truth is no woman or person or color or oppressed minority should ever have to bear the burden of representation for an entire community. When was the last time America blamed all white men when a white male shot up a school or a concert? But many Americans quickly jump to group assumptions in cases involving non white males.

I don’t know what will happen with Jussie Smollett. I hope he has a strong support network to take care of him. I don’t presume his guilt just because he’s been charged with a crime by the Chicago Police Department. I do know that Black LGBTQ people have been, and continue to be, disproportionately affected by hate crimes and violence, and those stories deserve attention as well.

Keith Boykin