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Dangers of crying wolf

In a time when we hear accusations of “fake news” come from the most powerful man in the world on a near-daily basis, we cannot afford to have people make up stories that could tear this nation apart.

That, however, is exactly what “Empire” star Jussie Smollett is believed to have done following his claims of a bias attack in late January. Smollett said he was brutally attacked by two men who made racial and homophobic slurs, beat him, threw an unknown chemical on him and placed a noose around his neck. 

At first taken at face value, Smollett found sympathy with those who believed his story, and those who sought justice. As his story started to unravel, though, police went from calling him a victim to eventually calling him a suspect for disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Then they arrested him. He is now facing those felony criminal charges — and the disgust of citizens everywhere.

We have enough troubles, enough unrest, enough hatred in the world. We don’t need people fabricating stories to divide us further. Smollett, if guilty, should be ashamed of his actions. And all because he was reportedly “dissatisfied with his salary,” according to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

When someone is victimized, it’s tragic. Hate crimes are especially disturbing. According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics report for 2017, released last year, there’s been an increase in hate crimes of 17 percent since 2016.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 2018 was rife with hate. There was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead. 

In Jeffersontown, Ky., a white man was charged with killing two African-Americans at a Kroger’s grocery store, reportedly telling people in the parking lot, “whites don’t kill whites.”

And violence against homosexual and transgender people was also pervasive in 2018. In New York City, a 20-year-old woman was hospitalized with a broken spine after being attacked on the subway. The man accused of the attack reportedly used anti-gay slurs, according to the ADL.

Then there’s all the hate spewed out on social media on a minute-to-minute basis. Intolerance runs rampant online, with too many offenses to mention making people around the world feel unsafe. As the ADL stated, “Online rhetoric can manifest in real-world violence.” 

We know this to be true, as Tree of Life suspected shooter and white supremacist Robert Bowers left anti-Semitic comments on Gab, a right-wing extremist social media site. Bowers posted messages like “Jews are the children of Satan,” “kike infestation,” “filthy EVIL jews [sic]” and “Stop the Kikes then worry about the Muslims.”

Again, we don’t need to borrow trouble.

When crimes are falsely reported, it desensitizes the public to violence and abuse. We can’t afford to have its effects lessened by those who so cavalierly claim they were victimized when they weren’t — people need to know crime is a serious, real problem.

So what are we supposed to do when someone is an agitator, stirring the pot for no apparent reason other than to get notoriety? In this instance, we can’t ignore Smollett — he’s been in the public eye claiming injustice for too long now. But we can condemn him — if guilty — and remind people that their words and actions count. Crying wolf, especially when for something as serious as a hate crime, is unforgivable.

That he identified the purported assailants as wearing Make America Great Again hats is just plain wrong. There’s no excuse for dragging the president and his supporters into this  whole mess.

Let’s hope there’s a lesson learned in all of this. For one, by and large, the news media are not purveyors of fake news. When something happens, the media report it. But they also look further, if doing their job, bringing to light any inconsistency that could disprove false claims. 

Two, we need to commit to a world where hate crimes are  the exception — not the rule. We must teach our young, and each other, that tolerance and acceptance are key to a peaceful and productive society. 

And three, we must not be afraid to call a spade a spade. We must be able to point to those who make up horrible stories just to garner sympathy — or publicity — and call them out. We must stand strong in the name of right.