Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson called out celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates on Thursday for their decision to amplify coverage of what he said was the “phony attack” against “Empire” star Jussie Smollett.
“The accusation within this phony attack received national attention for weeks,” Johnson told reporters during a press conference. “Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor.
“This announcement today recognized that ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson continued, adding that the star had staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on the Fox show.
“I am left hanging my head asking ‘why?’ Why would anyone — especially an African American man — use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusation,” Johnson added. “Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who is in need of support by police and investigators as well as the citizens of this city … I’m offended by what happened and I am also angry.”
In the weeks after the attack was reported, major journalists and Hollywood figures seized on the story to suggest the incident was reflective of a broader trend.
“This was an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate,” Sen. Kamala Harris said at the time.
“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,” added Sen. Cory Booker.
Both are running for president in 2020.
Smollett turned himself into police early Thursday morning after being charged by authorities with filing a false police report.
“Jussie Smollet is under arrest and in custody of detectives,” the department’s chief communications officers Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter Thursday morning. “At 9am at #ChicagoPolice Headquarters, Supt Eddie Johnson, Commander of Area Central Detectives Edward Wodnicki will brief reporters on the investigation prior to the defendants appearance in court.”
The arrest capped a three week investigation during which Smollett started as a victim but later evolved into the prime suspect behind the assault.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. 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,” Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
20th Century Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap. Just hours before the charges were revealed however, the network reiterated their support for the actor.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the company said.