As Jussie Smollett proclaims innocence, mayor and police chief take aim at 'whitewash of justice'

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Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he does not believe justice was served in the case of Jussie Smollett, after all charges against Smollett were dropped, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel added that the outcome was a "whitewash of justice."

Posted: Mar 26, 2019 6:30 PM
Updated: Mar 26, 2019 6:30 PM

Actor Jussie Smollett says he has been "truthful and consistent" from the jump. The prosecutor's office says dropping the charges was just and appropriate. The mayor and police superintendent? Not so fast, they say.

Hours after prosecutors announced the "Empire" actor would face no charges on allegations that he duped police into thinking he had been the victim of a hate-fueled attack, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson held a news conference excoriating Smollett and the Cook County State's Attorney Office.

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Johnson said prosecutors did not consult his office. He learned that the charges for filing a false police report were dropped the same time the media did, he said.

Repeatedly calling the decision a "whitewash of justice," Emanuel said the deal struck between the actor and the prosecutor's office threatens to render hate crime laws toothless. People of every faith, race and sexual orientation stand to suffer for it, he said.

Here are some highlights from their joint news conference:

On the deal circumventing justice

"Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology," Johnson said. "I've been a cop now for about 31 years. When I came on this job, I came on with my honor, my integrity and my reputation. If somebody accused me of doing anything that would circumvent that, I would want my day in court, period, to clear my name. I've heard that (Smollett's camp) wanted their day in court with TV cameras so America could know the truth, even though they chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system."

On Smollett's claim of innocence

"From top to bottom, this is not on the level," Emanuel said. "At the end of the day, it's Mr. Smollett that committed this false claim. It is not on the level from beginning to end, and there needs to be a level of accountability throughout the system, and this sends an unambiguous message that there is no accountability."

"Our job as police officers is to present (prosecutors) with the evidence," Johnson said. "The apology comes from the person that did this. If you want to say you're innocent of a situation, then you take your day in court. I would never, if somebody falsely accused me, I would never hide behind a brokered deal and secrecy, period."

On Smollett forfeiting $10,000 bail

"On financial costs, this $10,000 doesn't even come close to what the city spent in resources to actually look over the camera, gather all the data, go over all the information that actually brought the indictment by the grand jury on many, many multiple different charges," Emanuel said.

On 'ethical costs'

"As a person who was in the House of Representatives when we tried to pass the Shepard legislation that dealt with hate crimes ... to then use those very laws and the principles and values behind the (Matthew Shepard And James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009) to self-promote your career is a cost that comes to all the individuals: gay men and women who will come forward and one day say they were victim of a hate crime who will now be doubted, people of faith -- Muslim or any other religious faith -- who will be a victim of hate crimes, people also of all walks of life and backgrounds, race, ethnicities, sexual orientation, now this casts a shadow of whether they're telling the truth, and he did this all in the name of self-promotion," the mayor said.

"This is a whitewash of justice. A grand jury could not have been clearer."

On using hate crime laws to boost a career

"Even after this whitewash, (there's) still no sense of ownership of what he's done," Emanuel said. "He says that, in fact, that he is the wronged in this case. This is an unbelievable not just whitewash of justice; this is a person now who's been let off scot-free with no sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions. From top to bottom, not only besmirching the name of the city, but then I cannot stress that in a time when you have people bringing a moral equivalency in Virginia between bigots and those fighting bigotry, that you have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books to protect people that are minorities from violence, to then turn around and use those laws to advance your career and your financial reward, is there no decency in this man?"

He added, "Now you have an individual who took those laws, turned them inside out, upside down, for only one thing: himself. And that, in my view, is an insult and an offense to every one of us who collectively upholds those laws because they reflect who we are as a city and -- because of the hate crime legislation, which is federal -- who we are as a country."

On two sets of rules for society

"You cannot have, because of a person's position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else. In another way, you are seeing this play out in the universities, where people pay extra to get their kids a special position in universities. Now, you have a person, because of their position and background, who's getting treated in a way that nobody else would ever ... get close to this type of treatment," the mayor said.

Emanuel said later, "This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you're in a position of influence and power you'll be treated one way. Other people will be treated another way. There is no accountability then in the system. It is wrong, full stop."

On an actor perpetrating a 'hoax on the city'

"He brought this case forward," Emanuel said. "He said he was victim of a hate crime, both for his sexual orientation and for being black. The evidence came forward. A grand jury saw the evidence, realized this was a hoax, a hoax on the city, a hoax on hate crimes, a hoax on people of good values who actually were empathetic at first and he used that empathy for only one reason."

On whether the public will learn the truth

"The city saw its reputation dragged through the mud, but I remind everybody: It was not just the officers' work. That work, a piece of that work was shown to a grand jury and they made a decision based on only a sliver of the evidence, and as I remember correctly somebody wanted to have that evidence and, as the superintendent said, their day in court so all the evidence could be made public. Because of the judge's decision, none of that evidence will ever be made public," the mayor said.

On the CPD investigation

"At the end of the day, it's Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period," the police superintendent said. "If he wanted to clear his name the way to do that was in a court of law so that everyone could see the evidence. ... I stand by the facts of what we produced. If they want to dispute those facts then the place to do that is in court, not secrecy."

On whether dropping charges was politically motivated

"To the state's attorney, the question about whether it was politically motivated or not, is something you have to ask them, because only they can answer their motivation, but I do know what the grand jury said," the mayor said.

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