Hours after the Empire actor turned himself in to police on Thursday, the department gave a press conference to comment on the alleged attack it has accused the actor of staging. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson discussed why Jussie Smollett allegedly faked his own assault, declaring that "the stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary."
"Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Johnson said, per The New York Times. "This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn't earn, and certainly didn't deserve." Police say the actor paid two men $3,500 to stage a fake hate crime against him on Jan. 29.
Smollett is best known for his part on the hit TV show Empire, which is produced by Fox. The network said Wednesday that it would not write the actor out of the show, even after police indicated they were investigating whether he had staged the attack. But Fox seemed to change its tune on Thursday. "We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options," the network said in a statement provided to Bustle.
The actor's lawyers released a statement after he was charged denying the allegations. "Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked," they wrote. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."
On Jan. 29, Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told the police that he'd been the victim of an assault. He alleged that two men in masks had beat him up, poured a chemical on him, and put a noose around his neck. He also claimed that the men had used racist and homophobic slurs and shouted, "This is MAGA country!" According to USA Today, Smollett had cuts on his neck and face after the alleged incident and checked himself in to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
But now police allege that the actor completely faked the attack. Nigerian brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo were arrested on Feb. 13 in connection with the assault but were later released. They told police that Smollett had paid them to stage it. The Chicago Police Department announced on Saturday that their testimony had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation."
While hate crime hoaxes do occur, studies suggest that they happen at a far less frequent rate than genuine hate crimes. Brian Levin, who directs California State University's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, shared research with Quartz indicating that 21,000 hate crimes occurred between 2016 and 2018, compared with 49 hoaxes. That means only 0.2 percent of the reported crimes were faked.
"I'm left hanging my head and asking why," Police Superintendent Johnson said Thursday. "How can an individual who's been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?"