Emil Guillermo: Already victims in the Jussie Smollett Case

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Here’s what bothers me about the hubbub over Jussie Smollett.

If his name were Fufai Pun, Kheong Ng-Thang, or Tsz Mat Pun, Smollett would’ve received a mere fraction of the coverage he did during his whole ordeal.

And then maybe, if he concocted it all, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

A mere fraction of the Smollett news coverage is all these three Asian immigrants got for being hammered to death by 34-year-old Arthur Martunovich, an immigrant from Estonia, at the Seaport Buffet in Brooklyn on Jan. 15.

If you never heard the story, don’t worry, most people haven’t.

It wasn’t even considered a hate crime at first.

There was no snap judgment. The police and DA’s office waited two weeks before filing hate crime charges.

There was some coverage in the New York tabloids primarily. But consider that in the media capital of the world, three Asian American immigrants are hammered to death by a white immigrant in a mini-massacre and people around the world, let alone the New York metro area, aren’t buzzing about it still?

The story just didn’t get the Jussie Smollett treatment.

For starters, Smollett wasn’t Asian.

The secret sauce, of course, was his celebrity. Smollett was the fourth billed actor on the hit Fox TV series “Empire.”

Maybe Fufai Pun, Kheong Ng-Thang, or Tsz Mat Pun would have gotten some attention had they been extras on “Fresh Off the Boat” or “Dr. Ken” or something?

By now, you know Smollett has been charged with staging the whole thing. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was blunt: “Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”

Earlier in the day, Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police and was arrested for filing a false police report, a felony that carries a penalty of 1 to 3 years and a $25,000 fine.

He posted $10,000 of his $100,000 bond and then made a perp walk out of custody that looked like an MMA ring entrance.

But soon after, Smollett was off to work on the set of “Empire” in Chicago, as if nothing happened to change anything at all.

Smollett apologized to his cast and crew, and reportedly stuck to his story that he was a victim of an alleged hate crime, continuing to claim innocence.

It was the media and the legal system that were to blame for his situation.

I immediately sought the “Good Morning America” interview from Feb. 14 with Robin Roberts.

I wanted to see how Smollett had most of America seeing him the way he wanted to see himself, as a gay black man, who claimed to have fought back against attackers who put a rope around his neck and tried to pour bleach on him. And all while they said to him, “This is MAGA Country.”

When he was challenged (albeit mildly by Roberts), Smollett said: “It feels like if I had said I was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”

And that’s what struck a nerve.

He did say he was black, didn’t he? Or did he forget? Or was he just gay and his attackers were homophobes and not racist?

There was plenty to be skeptical about (not giving up his phone, for example). But in the third and final segment of his interview, Smollett managed some tears around four minutes in to attempt to make his case.

Does he deserve an Oscar for that?

Or our disdain?

Early Friday, Fox made a decision to drop Smollett from the last two episodes. In a statement, executive producers said they were “placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out.”

And now we’ll see.

I’ll continue to reserve judgment on Smollett’s guilt or innocence, as I have from day one. I didn’t get entangled by the social media hubbub. I didn’t even know of Smollett, though I remember watching the first few seasons of “Empire.” In fact, from all the reporting I’ve seen, I’d blame social media rather than the legit news media.

But Smollett surely touched all the hot buttons in these racially charged times, especially when he mentioned “MAGA.”

That’s ironic, considering we have a president whom the Washington Post’s fact-checker claims has lied over 8,000 times since he took office.

But that’s the world we live in now. Self-interest rules. And maybe that’s what happened in Smollett’s case. Let’s let the courts decide.

Just remember, we don’t have to wait to see real victims from all this.

From this day forward, many victims of hate violence will experience a new reaction when they make their claims. The knee jerk of sympathy will be slower. Victims will enter a new Smollett zone of skepticism.

It’s hard for Asian Americans to understand how it could be any slower.

Just look at the men whom I call the Seaport Three– Fufai Pun, Kheong Ng-Thang, and Tsz Mat Pun—all of them brutally murdered with a hammer in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay in January.

Think about them every time you hear something in the news or social media about the ongoing saga of Jussie Smollett. He may have been lying.

But the Seaport Three are real.
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
Addendum: I’m gratified that this commentary got many different reactions, but it was ultimately misunderstood. My main point remains that Asian Americans don’t get the media coverage we deserve. And when it’s a vicious triple-murder hate crime like it was in Brooklyn, everyone in this country should know about it. As for Jussie Smollett, I said that fame and celebrity were major factors in getting publicity for his hate crime allegations, but this is not a black vs. Asian issue. It’s a criticism of the media and how Asian Americans must still struggle to have our voices heard in the news. - Emil Guillermo

Editor’s Note: We’ve read the comments on social media that called this post “anti-black.” That was not the writer’s intention: he was criticizing the lack of media coverage of a horrendous anti-Asian hate crime in Brooklyn. As an independent journalist, Emil expresses his own opinions on the AALDEF blog.

This post should have been edited to avoid any misperception that Blacks and Asians are pitted against each other in the handling and news coverage of hate crimes. In fact, our communities face similar problems in getting police to investigate alleged hate crimes, and hate crime victims–especially immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people of color–are often ignored by the media. AALDEF published this post to bring more attention to the racially-motivated murder of the Seaport Buffet immigrant workers. We are also committed to building strong coalitions with blacks and other communities of color to ensure that civil rights are protected for all of our communities. We’ve done that in economic justice, immigrant rights, affirmative action, police misconduct, and voting rights cases for more than four decades. We want to have constructive discussions of racial and economic justice issues on the blog and welcome your comments.