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MSNBC legal analyst Paul Butler made no secret of his disdain for the sentence handed down last week to disgraced former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who was convicted in December of staging a hate crime against himself and lying to police in 2019.
Smollett’s sentence consisted of 30 months of felony probation and 150 days in the county jail, as well as the payment of fines and restitution to the city of Chicago.
In a Tuesday op-ed for The Washington Post, the liberal analyst claimed White people were eager for “a pound of Smollett’s flesh” and the main drivers behind the case against him. He called it “unjust” for Smollett to be incarcerated for lying about being the victim of a hate crime.
“I don’t believe Jussie Smollett but I recognize when a Black man gets railroaded through a justice system that is out to get him,” Butler wrote. “A rich entitled actor is hardly the most sympathetic face of reform. Still, Smollett’s case demonstrates that when powerful elites decide they want a Black man locked up, nothing and nobody — not even the elected prosecutor — will stop them.”
Butler argued that the initial disorderly conduct charge against Smollett that was dropped in exchange for community service and surrendering his $10,000 bond was the “appropriate result” for someone who was a first-time offender for a non-violent crime.
“But that wasn’t enough for many White people — and some Black people as well — who wanted a pound of Smollett’s flesh,” he wrote.
He claimed that incarcerating Smollett had nothing to do with protecting those who were actually victims of racist or homophobic attacks.
“Rather, it’s legal vigilantism that sends a stern warning about the limits of criminal justice reform: If those in power want a Black man locked up, they will find a way to do it,” he added.
Butler then detailed what he saw as the reason the case against Smollett was revived and prosecuted, arguing that a White male lawyer undermined the Black female prosecutor, Kim Foxx, who originally made the decision not to charge Smollett.
“Sending a Black gay man to jail for lying about being attacked will not encourage hate crime victims to come forward. Instead, it sends the message that they, rather than their assailants, are subject to being incarcerated if authorities don’t believe their stories,” Butler wrote, adding that Foxx’s decision to focus on other crimes was “reasonable.”
Butler then praised Foxx as a “progressive prosecutor,” and argued that her reelection by the people of Chicago showed they had “confidence in her criminal justice priorities.”
“As for Smollett, he is just another Black man serving time — in a system more perverted than his crime,” he added.