Back in January of 2019, Jussie Smollett reported a hate crime to the Chicago Police Department.
The saga that unfolded in the years that followed left Hollywood divided and Smollett imprisoned for hiring two men to attack him and falsely claiming that he had been attacked by a pair of white Trump supporters.
Smollett’s story began to unravel just two weeks after he reported the crime, when police raided the home of Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo and found evidence that the brothers had received a $3,500 payment from the actor for their role in staging the attack.
Following years of legal wrangling, Smollett was sentenced last week to 150 days in jail and pay $120,106 in restitution to the city of Chicago.
Smollett became emotional at his sentencing, repeatedly assuring the assembled press that he was not suicidal and indicating that he feared he may be harmed behing prison walls.
“I am innocent, and I am not suicidal,” Smollett after the verdict was announced.
“If anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself and you must all know that.”
In the days since, several defenders of Jussie’s, including his famous sister, have spoken out on his behalf on social media.
“Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans,” Jurnee Smollett wrote on Instagram.
“Jussie is innocent,” she continued.
“And…you don’t have to believe in his innocence to believe he should be free. #FreeJussie #StopLockingUpOurPeople.”
Jussie’s Empire co-star Taraji P. Henson seconded that last point, arguing that even if Jussie is guilty, the sentence that he received is excessive.
“I am not here to debate you on his innocence, but we can agree that the punishment does not fit the crime,” Henson wrote.
The actress contrasted Smollett’s situation with that of Carolyn Bryant, the Mississippi woman whose infamous allegatoons led to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
“Emmett Till was brutally beat and ultimately murdered because of a lie and none of the people involved with his demise spent one day in jail, even after Carolyn Bryant admitted that her claims were false,” Henson wrote.
“No one was hurt or killed during Jussie’s ordeal. He has already lost everything, EVERYTHING!”
Insecure actor Kendrick Sampson also invoked the names of Till and his accuser in defending Smollett.
Sampson also contrasted Jussie’s experiences in the justice system with those of the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in 2020.
“Breonna Taylor’s murderer, and an endless list of other cops, can’t be held accountable…but Jussie is locked in a CAGE for allegedly lying to police?” Sampson wrote.
“How many Karens have lied to the police UNDER OATH a la Emmett Till with no accountability?”
Needless to say, Jussie’s friends, family, and colleagues are outraged by the sentence, and they’ve inspired many others to post plain black squares along with the hashtag #FreeJussie.
There’s no word yet on when Smollett can expect to be released from prison, but his attorneys have already begun appealing the verdict, and they’ve filed an emrgency motion to have the 39-year-old freed pending the outcome of the appeal.
“You turned your life upside down,” Judge James B. Linn said to Smollett while handing down his sentence on Thursday.
“You destroyed your life as you know it. There is nothing I can do to you today that will come close to the damage you’ve done to your own life.”
“If I did this, then it means that I stuck my fist in the fears of Black Americans in this country for over 400 years and the fears of the LGBT community,” Smollett told the court.
“Your Honor, I respect you and I respect the jury but I did not do this. And I am not suicidal. And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself. And you must all know that.”
We’ll have further updates on this developing story as more information becomes available.