The Chicago Way and Jussie Smollett
Over a century ago, Carl Sandburg captured the essence of the Second City in the verses of “Chicago.” His powerful metaphors persist to this day in my hometown, the “city of the big shoulders,” the “hog butcher for the world,” always “stormy, husky, brawling.” But the famed poet also described the unsavory underbelly of this metropolis: “And they tell me you are crooked, and I answer: Yes, it is true...”
This crooked culture vaulted to national attention again Tuesday with the inexplicable dismissal of 16 felony charges against actor Jussie Smollett. Given the gravity of the allegations, combined with the ironclad prosecution evidence believed to be assembled against Smollett by the Chicago Police Department, the only reasonable conclusion regarding this dismissal involves the crooked “Chicago way” of influence-peddling.
Because of the city’s incredible street violence, the U.S. military sends its health care professionals there to train in gunshot treatment before deployment to overseas battle zones. Yet despite this carnage, the police force devoted countless hours to finding the alleged “MAGA thugs” who somehow found and brutalized a lone, gay, black actor on a desolate street in the middle of a January night.
For most Chicagoans, this story reeked from the jump. For starters, the bone-chilling cold alone cast doubt upon the likelihood of such a street encounter. In addition, Smollett’s claim that his attackers yelled, “This is MAGA country!” during the supposed assault raised suspicions from even never-Trump zealots in the Windy City. I can attest, as a reasonably well-known Trump advocate, that Chicago is not, at all, “MAGA country.”
Nonetheless the Chicago Police Department acted like consummate professionals and treated Smollett, at first, like a worthy victim. As the facts of the case clearly shifted toward a hoax, the detectives established a meticulous criminal case detailed in this indictment proffer. The evidence belies any reasonable attempt to portray Smollett as a victim. Instead, it certifies his rather diabolical malfeasance. The record proved so thoroughly damning that late-night cable TV began to parody Jussie’s ludicrous lies.
Notwithstanding the absurdity of his allegations and the meticulous work of the Chicago PD, the office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx decided, without informing police officials or the Chicago mayor, to allow Smollett to walk away from the serious proceedings, practically scot-free. The charges were dropped, the case was sealed, and the only penalty Smollett faced at all was the forfeiture of his $10,000 posted bail.
The Chicago cops I spoke to were, without exception, apoplectic. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson earlier said of Smollett: “I’ll continue to pray for this troubled young man who resorted to both drastic and illegal tactics to gain attention.” One of his commanders, Ed Wodnicki, described the dropping of charges as “absolutely a punch in the gut.”
“We worked closely throughout our three-week investigation to get to the point where we arrested the offender,” he added. “For the state’s attorney at this point to dismiss charges without discussing this with us is just shocking.”
For his part, Smollett remained smugly incorrigible. In a post-hearing press conference, he declared, “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of.” He feigned that he would fight for the “betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
Really, Jussie? Unless Smollett believes that wealthy celebrity scam artists represent “marginalized people,” then his despicable actions only harm the causes of actual victims. He knowingly and brazenly led an already-stretched police force down a rabbit hole of politicized, self-aggrandizing fantasy.
Perhaps the most pernicious revelation of the whole Smollett saga: He unashamedly showcased for the country how the crooked Chicago way works. Because of his wealth and his fame, he swayed public prosecutors toward an outcome no ordinary criminal could ever fathom. Without question, part of his appeal to reckless, ambitious politicians like Foxx was his make-believe victimhood at the hands of phantom Trump racist thugs. His fairy tale concoction neatly fit the preconceived narrative. How unfortunate that such unconscionable untruthfulness could prevail in the City of the Big Shoulders.