LGBTQ Groups Fear Jussie Smollett Case Will Cast Doubt on Hate Crime Reports

Itay Hod
Gloria Schmidt, the lawyer representing the two brothers “Empire” star Jussie Smollett is accused of hiring to stage an attack against him, says a key piece of evidence is “more nuanced” than many people realize.Smollett’s $3,500 check to Abimbola Osundairo says in the memo line that it was for “5 Week Nutrition/Workout Program (Don’t Go),” according to a copy received by ABC News. (“Don’t Go” is the name of a song Smollett says he was getting ready to shoot a music video for.)Chicago police, however, said the check was payment for Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo to attack Smollett on Jan. 29.But Schmidt told TheWrap on Wednesday that the check was for both the attack and the training.Also Read: Jussie Smollett Betrayed Osundairo Brothers, Lawyer Says: 'They Put Their Trust in the Wrong Person' (Video)“The idea of them getting paid by Jussie for the training actually occurred before… this Jan. 29 thing happened,” she said. “When he went to pay them, was when he [asked] for this favor.”“So it’s like a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, ‘Can you do this for me?'” Schmidt said. “‘Here’s payment for the other thing we talked about.'”Asked if she knows how much of the money was for training and how much was for the attack, she said she had never though of it in “that binary way.”The Osundairo brothers were taken into custody by Chicago police after the attack but were released after two days and have not been charged with any crimes. Schmidt said her clients have “fully cooperated” and will still “fully cooperate” with the ongoing case, adding that she does not believe them to be in legal jeopardy.“Are they in legal peril? Am I nervous for them? No,” she said. “You only need immunity when you’re facing unrelated charges on things … No promises were made, no deals were cut. They wanted to be truth-tellers in the story.”Smollett was indicted by a grand jury last week on 16 felony counts after allegedly lying to police about the incident, in which he said he was randomly attacked by two men shouting racial and homophobic slurs in his Chicago neighborhood. The Osundario brothers are from the north side of Chicago.Also Read: Jussie Smollett Indicted on 16 Felony Counts by Grand JuryChicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett staged the attack because he was displeased with his pay on the Fox hip-hop soap opera “Empire.”Schmidt denied that that detail came from her client’s conversations with police. “[They] never once… touched on what was Jussie’s motive,” she said Wednesday. “My clients would not know what he was thinking or how far back he was planning something.”“We have not been asked to do anything further in terms of the state’s investigation or their case,” she added.Read original story Osundairo Brothers Lawyer: Jussie Smollett’s Check Was for Both Training and Staged Attack At TheWrap

The greatest tragedy of the Jussie Smollett saga would be if it discouraged anyone from coming forward to report a hate crime, according to leading LGBT anti-violence organizations.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation, which helped expand the federal hate crime law to include offenses motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability, said 410 hate crimes have been documented since Smollett’s case came to light.

“While we are absolutely dismayed that somebody with such a high profile would fake a hate crime, we want to remind everyone that false reports are the exception, not the rule,” the foundation tweeted Thursday.

Cathy Renna, a longtime LGBTQ activist, said Smollett’s case could also give new ammunition to anti-gay groups looking to minimize the issue.

“The most striking thing about this entire situation is that the media has spent more time, more energy and more resources on a hate crime that may not have even happened than it has on the more than 400 real hate crimes that have been reported since Smollett’s case,” Renna told TheWrap.

“The community is frustrated and angry because our impulse is to believe those who come forward with incidents,” Renna added. “Those who are anti-LGBT and racist will be able to use this.”

But the Shepard Foundation said about two-thirds of all hate crimes go unreported.

On Thursday, police said the “Empire” actor had staged an attack because he was unhappy with his salary. In late January, the black and gay actor told investigators that two men attacked him while shouting racial and homophobic slurs and referencing “MAGA.” Police said it was all made up.

Also Read: Jussie Smollett Arrest Stuns Hollywood Into Silence and Sorrow

Smollett’s story initially seemed to shine a helpful spotlight on hate crimes, as stars including Ariana Grande, Shonda Rhimes, Ellen Page and Andy Cohen expressed support. Presidential candidate Kamala Harris publicly condemned the reported attack, calling it “an attempted modern-day lynching.”

“It’s unfortunate,” said Eliel Cruz, spokesman for the Anti-Violence Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group dedicated to ending hate crimes. “It takes a lot of courage to come forward. It could potentially discourage other people from reporting because they may not be believed.”

Now Cruz is forced to remind the public that Smollett’s case is an “anomaly.” The organization said several cases of violence against LGBTQ people have been reported since mid-January, and that none have received as much attention as Smollett’s.

Among the cases cited by the Anti-Violence Project: On Jan. 19, just 10 days before Smollett talked to police, a gay couple said they were brutally attacked for holding hands in downtown Austin. (The men suffered broken bones, lacerations and memory loss). Just eight days later, on Jan. 27, a black transgender woman was shot in Houston parking lot. (She survived). That same day, a 50-year-old man said he was jumped by four men and a woman outside a gay bar in Philadelphia. (The victim was sent to the hospital and treated for a head injury). Last week, a gay man living in Salt Lake City was punched after his assailant asked him if he was gay. The attack was caught on video, which has since gone viral.

According to a study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the severity of the hate crimes has also increased in recent years. NCAVP recorded 52 reports of hate-related homicides in 2017 — the highest number ever recorded in more than two decades of collecting data.

“As we learn more details about Jussie’s arrest, we remain focused on the urgent fight against the very real issues of racism, homophobia, and hate violence,” GLAAD, the nation’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy group, and Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, said in a joint statement Thursday.

“FBI data shows that hate crimes are on the rise nationwide and that fact cannot get lost in the discussion around Jussie’s arrest,” the statement continued. “While Jussie’s situation is troubling and concerning, anyone who is a victim of hate violence should never be hesitant to speak out and share their stories.”

The statement came with statistics from the FBI, which show reported hate crimes in the U.S. rose 17 percent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased.

Also Read: Jussie Smollett Bail Set at $100,000, Must Surrender Passport

The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Anti-Violence Project, which helps people who have experienced hate crimes, said in a statement: “The confusing and deeply unfortunate circumstances surrounding Jussie Smollett should not cloud the sobering facts about hate crimes in our nation.”

The center cited a recent study released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism that shows hate crimes in the country’s largest cities increased for the fifth consecutive year in 2018 — with Los Angeles receiving its highest number of hate-crime reports in a decade.

“Do not be distracted by Mr. Smollett’s alleged staged attack,” the center’s statement said. “Hate crimes, particularly against people of color and the LGBT community, are real and on the rise. These facts should alarm all of us.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing harassment or assault, contact the Anti-Violence Project’s 24-Hour Bilingual Hotline: 212-714-1141.

Read original story LGBTQ Groups Fear Jussie Smollett Case Will Cast Doubt on Hate Crime Reports At TheWrap