Short answer: we don’t know and it’s possible we never will. Cook County Circuit Judge Steven G. Watkins sealed the case file. Here’s the Chicago Sun Times to get you caught up on what we know about this new development in a bizarre case:
In a highly unusual decision, prosecutors on Tuesday dropped charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett that accused him of staging a hate-crime attack against himself — a move that Mayor Rahm Emanuel later called a “whitewash of justice.”
The actor was indicted March 8 with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly hiring two men to attack him near his Streeterville home in January. The $10,000 posted for Smollett’s bond will be turned over to the City of Chicago Law Department.
The Chicago Police Department is furious over this ruling, as Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said “Do I think justice was served? No…I think this city is still owed an apology.” Keep in mind that this is the same police department that was found to have operated “black sites” where they tortured tons of people they detained (including children), so “justice” is certainly a relative term when it comes to the Chicago PD.
But this case being dropped doesn’t mean that Smollett is the victim of a crime. Like the Mueller Report, this is a question of legally-defined criminality, and by dropping the charges, the prosecutors are saying that they cannot make them stick to Jussie Smollett. It doesn’t mean those charges don’t have validity or were incorrect, just that they do not rise to the legal level they need to in order to qualify for the legal distinction placed upon them.
Given how little we know about this situation, I’m hesitant to speculate too much—but such is the job of a poster—so read these next two paragraphs with the understanding that there is little conviction behind either hypothesis, and there could easily be alternate scenarios that I am missing here.
Rahm Emmanuel and the Chicago Police are right that something funny is up and that Jussie Smollett is “in a position of influence and power,” getting “treated one way, [while] other people will be treated another way.” Whatever that means, Emmanuel is saying that an actor who has been famous over a supporting TV role for four years had enough power over prosecutors that they betrayed their legal duty. That seems like quite a bit of a stretch, but this is America, so a famous person getting away with less of a crime than non-famous people get away with isn’t exactly something new.
The Chicago PD overplayed their hand. Ed Wodnicki, the 18th District police commander who oversaw Smollett’s investigation, said “we were absolutely prepared to go to trial. We were rock solid. We were excited to have this case prosecuted.” Prosecutors clearly disagreed, the only question remaining is why. Rahm Emmannuel and Chicago PD are asserting that this is option one—yet another instance of the rich and famous in America having a different justice system than the rest of us. The problem is that the Chicago PD has a public history that we can all look up, and atrocities/cover-ups of things like their child torture black-sites decidedly cuts into their credibility. If you want to trust the prosecutors as being honest in this instance (which is its own kind of dicey proposition), then it stands to reason that the case presented to them was not as strong as the Chicago Police Department claimed it to be. I won’t speculate as to why the police’s claims did not match the law, because I enjoy not getting sued.
Again, dropping these charges does not make Jussie Smollett innocent nor does it officially mean he’s a victim. It means that prosecutors either cannot or choose not to win a case with the evidence supplied to them by the Chicago Police Department. The Chicago PD is claiming prosecutorial corruption in the wake of this decision, and while that is certainly always an option in America, it is difficult to think that a black man could hold that kind of sway over the notoriously punitive Chicago justice system, no matter how famous he is.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.