Here are several law enforcement takes on the Jussie Smollett case — none of them 'hot'

On January 29, Jussie Smollett reported to law enforcement that he was attacked by two men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs and then placed a white rope around his neck. Since then, much has come to light. What started out as an allegation of a vicious early morning hate crime by white Trump supporters in the blistering cold streets of Chicago is unravelling into what appears to be a publicity stunt gone wrong. Smollett was charged with a felony late yesterday.

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Unpacking the Smollett story is complex. First, and probably most obvious, a hate crime hoax is a grave injustice to those who have or may become victims of hate crimes. Repeated instances of contrived stories of assault, of which there have been multiple recently, eventually cast a shadow of doubt in the public over authentic allegations. And although law enforcement handle investigations independent of public opinion, sometimes victims conflate public perception with the honest efforts of investigators. It hasn’t helped that the politicization of race and race related topics has already created a certain degree of skepticism with hate crime allegations, as evidenced by activity on Facebook and Twitter.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, victims should expect that law enforcement professionals will treat each allegation as a stand-alone event and handle without prejudice.

Second, the diversion of finite law enforcement resources in one of the most dangerous cities in the country has potentially grave consequences well beyond a mere wasting of taxpayer money. While detectives and supporting staff are focusing their attention on a possible hate crime hoax, they aren’t focusing on other legitimate and necessary investigations, including the investigations of real hate crimes.

This potential fraud concocted by an actor as a way to gain popularity and job security could result in criminals not being identified, apprehended, or stopped; cops not being supported or backed up in life and death situations; or people in the great city of Chicago being categorically denied the resources intended for their safety and security. In short, if Jussie Smollett fraudulently reported a hate crime, then he made Chicago less safe by distracting much needed law enforcement resources away from their intended purpose. The true consequences of such a distraction for law enforcement could never fully be known.

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Third, the vigor in which the media reported Smollett’s allegation and the fervor with which politicians spread it as evidence of Trump-induced hate shows the abhorrent nature of partisan politics today. One outlet stated after the initial reports, “this kind of racist and homophobic behavior is running rampant in American (sic) today, especially living in Trump's America.” Smollett’s story of a vicious hate crime — if true — would certainly have been grotesque and tragic, but what then if it it’s not? What do we make of a sham story used as fodder to create further division and disdain? What do we make of a person who would use a fallacious story, and subsequent public interviews, to send the country into disarray for personal, and possibly, financial gain?

Regardless of the outcome, there are two things we can all take away from this experience. The truth is rarely what it seems when politicians and pundits are incentivized to engage in a story, so it is probably best to let facts drive one’s position, not party affiliation. Also, a minority of extremists exist in both parties from whom things will be said or done that are not representative of the majority within each party (or of the United States at large). It would be helpful to consider such things before either party uses fringe activity to intimidate the opposition into submission.

If recent reporting that Smollett coordinated the attack on himself with two of his Nigerian friends proves correct, then he will have certainly accomplished one of his rumored reasons for staging the crime, name recognition. I personally had no idea who he was before the alleged attack, but we all know who he is now. And if this really was a hoax, I don’t ever want to hear from him again.

Jeff Cortese, a financial crimes manager in the private sector, is the former acting chief of the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit. Before his 11-year career with the bureau, he worked as a dignitary protection agent with the U.S. Capitol Police and served on the security detail for the Speaker of the House. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreycortese.