Sen. Kamala Harris said she is “sad, frustrated and disappointed” about the recent turn in the case of the actor Jussie Smollett.
Harris, a Democratic presidential candidate in the 2020 race, had joined a flood of support for Smollett when he first claimed in January to be the victim of a hate crime attack in Chicago. Smollett’s story drew an outpouring of sympathy and condemnations of the attack from several politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Donald Trump and Sen. Cory Booker – also a 2020 candidate.
Following weeks of investigation over Smollett’s claims that two people yelled racist and homophobic insults, beat him, put a noose on him and threw chemicals on him, Chicago police charged the Empire star with felony disorderly conduct in filing a false police report. Police said Thursday that Smollett orchestrated a fake hate crime attack on himself out of dissatisfaction with his salary. The actor is alleged to have paid two men $3,500 to carry out the fake attack.
Harris, who called Smollett’s initial account of the attack “an attempted modern day lynching,” said in a statement on Thursday that false reports to the police can make it harder for legitimate crime victims to come forward.
Harris, a former prosecutor, also noted that hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., citing FBI statistics released last year that found a 17% rise in hate crimes.
“Part of the tragedy of this situation is that it distracts from that truth, and has been seized by some who would like to dismiss and downplay the very real problems that we must address,” she said. “We should not allow that. I will always condemn racism and homophobia. We must always confront hate direct, and we must always seek justice.”
Smollett has denied the accusations and his legal team said in a statement that he “feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”