Bad messages in Smollet case

Television actor Jussie Smollett lied when he claimed he was the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack in Chicago, police there maintain. They say he used two accomplices to stage the assault, in a bid for publicity he may have hoped would help his career.

Yet, other than a few days in jail while court proceedings were under way, Smollett will serve no time behind bars for his offenses. A grand jury had indicted him on 15 charges, all felonies.

This week, Cook County, Illinois, prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollett. State’s Attorney Kim Foxx insisted that even if the actor had been found guilty in a trial, he would not have been sentenced to prison.

In return for prosectors’ decision to let him walk, Smollett agreed to let Chicago keep the $10,000 he had posted in bail to get out of jail after being arrested initially.

Chicago officials, furious at county prosecutors’ decision to slap Smollett on the wrist and let him go, are demanding he reimburse the city $130,000 to cover the cost of a police investigation into his false claim. Even if he refuses to pay, the worst city officials can do is seek fines and court costs from him.

The bottom line, then, is that Smollett is getting away with diverting Chicago police resources from handling real crimes — and with stoking divisiveness nationwide — for the grand total of $10,000.

One wonders how Cook County authorities handle such cases involving non-celebrities who can’t afford $10,000 get-out-of-jail-free cards.

What are the messages from this case? One is that money and fame can make a difference in how justice is administered. Another is that Cook County authorities see no need to deter others from claiming falsely that they were victimized because of race and/or sexual preference. A third is that those who really have been victims of such crimes may have a harder time being believed.

Those are bad reasons not to pursue justice in this case.