One of the things about our society in this era of instant electronic communications is that all of us tend to jump to conclusions about stories in the news. We hear that an actor like Jussie Smollett has been attacked by MAGA hat-wearing homophobic racists and that immediately fits with a narrative of Trump and his followers. So those on the left jump all over it and start tweeting and writing blog posts and creating memes about it. Then, when the story shifts a bit and newspapers start to report that police sources say that Smollett may have paid men he knew to stage the attack, that fits a narrative of those on the right, that liberals have knee-jerk reactions to everything and that attacks on African-Americans and those in the queer community are all over-stated and over-reported by the left, and that they really don’t happen much, if at all.
At this point, there is no way to know what is true in this story. So perhaps the wisest thing would be to wait for the police to finish their investigation and see if they charge the two brothers who were suspected of attacking Smollett or charge Smollett for filing a false report. As a people, we don’t have a lot of patience to wait for things to play out like that. We’re in a 24-hour news cycle and we want answers now and if answers aren’t available the best answers cobbled together from what little is known will do. We want to be the first to post about the latest developments in the latest stories. We accept incomplete information rather than no information at all.
The problem with that is that people can get hurt by the suppositions and incorrect reporting, whether it is the two brothers who were accused of accosting him or whether it is Smollett himself. I don’t want to suppose that Smollett planned an attack on himself, but if it proves to be true it is devastating, in large part due to his fame and the continuous reporting on it. Right now, it’s a big part of that 24-hour news cycle and right now it seems the majority of the country thinks Smollett lied.
The thing is, there are a lot of wolves out there and just because one boy cries wolf when there is no wolf there, it doesn’t mean we should ignore everyone who tells us they have been attacked by a wolf. Already, I have seen that there are those who want to use the possibility that Smollett lied as proof that there is no danger for my community.
As a gay man who has been threatened and who has known queer people who were beaten or killed, it pains me to think that Smollett may have fabricated this whole thing, and I hope that it is not true. It will make it that much harder for those who have suffered from hate crimes to be believed.
False reports of crimes are fairly rare, but they do happen. Sometimes it’s to get attention. Other times it’s to get someone in trouble, a way to get even with someone who hurt you in some way. Sometimes there’s no explanation. But when these reports happen they undercut the many true stories of homophobia and racism that are so prevalent in our society. I sincerely hope that Jussie Smollett did not orchestrate his own attack. But if he did, that doesn’t mean black men are not really dying at the hands of police and others. It doesn’t mean that gay men aren’t getting fired from jobs or getting beaten and killed for being gay. It doesn’t mean that there are no hate-filled neo-Nazis attacking Jews, or Muslim-hating Americans attacking those with different beliefs, or Trump supporters attacking those who look different or speak a different language. These things do happen. There are wolves among us.