Jussie Smollett, co-star of Fox's Empire, has been cleared of all criminal charges following his arrest over an allegedly false police report in February. This verdict concludes the incredibly tumultuous diatribe that's surrounded Smollett since his claim to be the victim of a hate crime, though it raises the question how this favorable development will affect his potential future as a longtime cast member of Empire.
For over a month, Smollett has been the topic of discussion in a roller coaster of extreme shifts in prevailing opinion as to his presumed guilt or innocence. Prior to his arrest, Smollett's claims of being targeted in Chicago on the basis of his race and sexual orientation were largely believed by the public, with fans and 20th Century Fox openly standing up for him. However, after a Cook County grand jury charged him with 16 felony counts for alleged false reporting, popular opinion turbulently swung in the opposite direction, resulting in Smollet's character, Jamal Lyon, being written out of Empire's remaining season 5 episodes. Of course, some supporters and co-stars, like Terrance Howard, continued to defend Smollett, believing the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County court to be biased or mistaken.
At last, this dizzying back-and-forth has come to a close, and Smollett is walking away a free man. According to EW, all charges against Smollett have been dropped. Patricia Brown Holmes, one of Smollett's defense attorneys, publicly stated:
"Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him. Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement."
In a sweeping condemnation of the noxious storm of speculation that inundated Smollett's case leading up to today's verdict, Holmes added that this should be "a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion." The defense lawyer stressed that the accused always deserve "respect and dignity," and concluded by saying, "Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends and career.”
Undoubtedly, Smollett must indeed be thankful to put this closely magnified incident behind him, and, with regard to his career, there appears to be a potential way forward that he and his fans would likely find more than agreeable. Sent out just after Smollett's innocence was announced, the official Empire Writers Twitter account sent out a cryptic tweet, which can be found below. Reading only "see y'all Wednesday" with Empire-related hashtags, it seems incredibly likely that Smollet's character may have been rewritten and edited back into the final episodes of season 5 in anticipation of this favorable verdict. Though currently unconfirmed, Empire fans would be wholly justified in keeping their hopes up and ears to the ground on the lead-up to Empire's penultimate season 5 episode tomorrow evening.
Until now, this entire debacle has been an all-around sour chapter in the histories of television, social media, and civil rights, and that's true regardless of what anyone believes about Smollett's now proven innocence. Serving as yet another piece of evidence that the US criminal justice system is as flimsy as it is inefficient - with Smollett's quick turnaround being a nimble exception to the generally sluggish rule - and that the American populace, catalyzed by social media, can easily be whipped into an alarming level of frenzied divisiveness when long-oppressed minority statuses are involved, it's safe to say that Smollett is likely not the only one relieved that his ordeal is finally at an end.