Chicago PD Faults Politicians Like Booker for Spreading Smollett ‘Hoax’
The top law enforcement official in Chicago on Thursday took a shot at presidential candidates like U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for spreading what police say was a hoax hate crime crafted by "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett.
Speaking Thursday at a news conference, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who is black, said he was angry that another black man would exploit racial divisions just because he was upset that he wasn't earning enough on his Fox TV show.
Smollett, who is gay, claimed he was attacked by two men who shouted homophobic and racial slurs before beating him up and throwing what he believed was bleach on him on Jan. 29. He also said they placed a noose around his neck and shouted "this is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's signature slogan.
After weeks of skeptical critiques by social media and the conservative press of Smollett's story, Smollett was arrested Thursday morning and charged with filing a false police report.
Abimbola "Abel" Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, who Smollett knew from the "Empire" set, told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to fake the attack. The brothers also are black.
“The accusation within this phony attack received national attention for weeks,” Johnson said. “Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor."
Although Johnson didn't mention him by name, Booker was among those candidates who jumped on the Smollett story when it first broke.
“To those in Congress who don’t feel the urgency to pass our Anti-Lynching bill designating lynching as a federal hate crime — I urge you to pay attention,” Booker said on Twitter.
As Smollett's story began falling apart, Booker was asked to comment on Sunday while he campaigned in New Hampshire.
"I'm going to withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources," CNN quoted Booker as telling reporters.
Booker, however, noted that bias crimes remain a real problem in the country.
"We know in America that bigoted and biased attacks are on the rise in a serious way," CNN quoted Booker as saying. "We actually even know in this country that since 9/11 a majority of the terrorist attacks on our soil have been right wing terrorist attacks, a majority of them white supremacist attacks."
FBI data released last year shows that hate crimes in New Jersey increased 75 percent from 2016 to 2017. The municipalities with most hate crimes during that period were 33 in Woodbury, 24 in East Brunswick, 22 in Lakewood, 18 in Evesham and 15 in Princeton.
In Chicago on Thursday, Johnson said that victims of violence in the city, which has seen a double-digit decrease of gun violence in the past two years, deserve the attention that Smollett garnered.
"I know the racial divide that exists here. I know how hard it's been for our city and our nation to come together. And I also know the disparities and I know the history," Johnson said. "Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."
He also said that the city hosts one of the world's largest gay pride parades every year.
"I love the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, warts and all," Johnson said. "But this publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.