BOSTON (CBS/AP) – A local activist group is pledging to continue offering support for hate crime victims after Chicago police blasted “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself.
Smollett turned himself in and was arrested earlier Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report when he told authorities he was attacked in Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said. It’s alleged that he was unhappy about his salary and wanted to promote his career.
“He took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at a news conference.
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” he later added.
Johnson said bogus police reports cause real harm, and he fears for future victims of real hate crimes.
“My concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen,” he said.
Boston Pride, an LGBTQ organization, said in a statement that they are “disheartened” by the news. They noted that at the time of the incident, they joined other activist groups in supporting Smollett and condemning the alleged hate crime.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that members of the LGBTQ community continue to be vulnerable and face discrimination and violence every day,” Boston Pride said in a statement. “We will continue to offer our love and support to the members of our community who have been victims of hate crimes.”
Smollett, who plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show “Empire,” said he was attacked as he was walking home from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — before fleeing.
Like many others, Somerville resident Alex Aferiat’s first inclination was to believe actor Smollett’s story. “As a gay man myself I think it’s horrible to think that someone would manufacture or pretend that they have been a victim of a crime,” said Aferiat.
Boston Pride says FBI stats show one-third of the hate crimes in Boston are against members of the LGBTQ community.
“At the end of the day whether you are doing it for whatever reason it’s not right,” said Marco Torres, of Boston Pride. “The severity of hate crimes is something that does affect our community on a day to day basis across the board.”
Some fear a case like this, could make it more difficult for those victims trying to tell their truths.
“I think it makes it harder for victims to come forward and I think it makes it harder for people to believed,” Aferiat said.
The Urban League of Eastern Mass. wants victims to know no matter what develops in the Smollett case, someone will listen to them.
“I think the bottom line is that this is very, very difficult. People suffer in silence. They have intimidations they have financial pressures,” said Darnell Williams of the Urban League. “We try to listen, we try to believe, and we try to support to encourage them. We don’t make judgement.”
In a statement Wednesday, attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said Smollett “enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)