On March 8th, Jussie Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of filing a false police report. His hate crime incident, which took the world by storm, was a hoax.

When he was first arrested, I was more disappointed than shocked. Like so many others, I defended him, even though I knew deep down the story sounded a little off. I couldn’t understand why someone would lie about being beaten for being black and gay. Why would someone make this up? Especially when there are millions of people all over the world who are harassed and killed for being who they are.

I kept my faith in Jussie for a while too. News stories and updates about the attack kept changing constantly. It was so hard to keep up with what was true and what wasn’t. Plus, the Chicago police department is known for being crooked, so it’s not like I trusted them either.

After a while, I stopped worrying about Jussie and started worrying about those who would be afraid to tell their stories of abuse and harassment. It’s already difficult enough to come forward and tell your story. We, unfortunately, live in a society that always questions and doubts the victim. Some people see it as playing devil’s advocate, of wanting to know all sides of the story; but it is taking the side of the abuser. And it causes more psychological harm to victims.

Given the worldwide attention that Jussie’s story received, it’s going to be a lot harder for hate crime victims to tell their story moving forward. That’s what upsets me the most. In his lie, he took away the validity of past and future victims.

Hate crimes are going to continue to happen because they are rising in this country and other countries where fascism is taking control. You can’t deny the statistics or the facts. We can not allow one person’s selfish act to prevent people from speaking their truths and to prevent us from believing them. We always need to approach these situations with empathy, sympathy, and understanding.

The biggest thing that this whole situation taught me was to take a look at my own prejudices. I, like so many people, have a perceived notion of what a Trump supporter is, and he played on that. It also made me realize that I can’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. Trevor Noah from The Daily Show said it best,

“We live in a world where people are too enthusiastic at jumping at stories that confirm their biases, instead of pausing and going ‘what do I make of this story?'”

He’s right. On the left, we make fun of people in the far-right who believe countless conspiracies and news that’s drilled into their head by Fox News.

I hate that myself and a lot of my friends reacted the same way to this story. We heard the words “hate crime” and “Trump supporter” and just ran with it. Especially as a writer, I need to be more aware and careful with the stories I push out. Because it is my responsibility to give hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and factual pieces to my readers. I’m never going to like Trump, I’m never going to be able to understand the mentality of a Trump supporter. But we all need to make sure we approach things without bias.

For the survivors of hate crimes and harassment, don’t ever be afraid to tell your story. It’s scary, and there will be people out there who will question what you say. Don’t ever let that stop you. Because now, more than ever your voices need to be heard.

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