Long before joining the Chicago Police Department, Eddie Johnson was very familiar with the city’s gun violence problems. He grew up in the projects, in the infamous Cabrini-Green homes, then moved to the city’s South Side. So it’s not surprising that Johnson, now Chicago Police Superintendent, brought up victims of gun violence as he opened Thursday morning’s press conference regarding the arrest of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
“Good morning, everyone. Before I get started on why we’re here, you know, as I look out into the crowd I just wish that the families of [the victims of] gun violence in this city got this much attention, because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’re giving to this particular incident.”
That opening zinger set the tone of Johnson’s remarks.
“This morning I come to you not only as the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, but also as a black man who spent his entire life living in the City of Chicago. This announcement today recognizes that Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.
“I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? How could an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”
The Superintendent’s point about “the symbolism of a noose” is one that hasn’t been hammered home yet and one that deserves a lot of attention. A lot of the media has focused on the fact that Smollett is gay and how this paints the LGBT community in a bad light. Smollett’s use of a noose, however, is sinister, and dismissive of the anguish and pain suffered by African-Americans who were lynched and of the terror felt by African-Americans who encountered the KKK.
Smollett’s insensitivity (which isn’t a strong enough word) is baffling.
There are probably no good answers to Johnson’s questions. However, growing up in public housing projects in Chicago in the 1960s (Johnson was born in 1959) most assuredly gives Johnson a different perspective on racism than Smollett, who was born in 1982 and grew up in the entertainment industry (his big break was in “The Mighty Ducks”). Johnson had a front-row seat to all of the ugliness and violence surrounding the civil rights movement and has spent his life working to make Chicago a better place. He knows how thinly stretched his department’s resources are and is justifiably pissed off that they were used investigating a fake crime.
“Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who is in need of support by police and investigators as well as the citizens of this city. Chicago hosts one of the largest Pride parades in the world, and we’re proud of that as a police department and also as a city. We do not, nor will we ever tolerate hate in this city, whether that hate is based on an individual’s sexual orientation, race, or anything else.
“I am offended by what’s happened, and I’m also angry. I love the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, warts and all, but this publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”
But still, Johnson shows grace toward Smollett.
“I’ll continue to pray for this troubled young man, who resorted to both drastic and illegal tactics to gain attention. I’ll also continue to pray for our city, asking that we can move forward from this and begin to heal.”
Watch Johnson’s comments below: