Screenwriter, producer, and actress Lena Waithe stood up for actor Jussie Smollett on the red carpet at the NAACP Image Awards on Saturday night, shortly before comedian Chris Rock slammed him inside.
Smollett, who was nominated for an award, did not appear at the ceremony. This week 16 felony charges against the actor, for falsifying a hate crime against him in late January, were abruptly dropped, prompting outrage from Chicago Police officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Jussie’s a friend,” said Waithe to Marc Malkin. “I believe him, you know what I mean? I stand with him. He’s my brother. And his family are my family. I feel like he was exonerated. He was cleared of all the charges brought against him. So I think that we as a public gotta stand back and really take a good look at ourselves and remember that being queer and black is like having a target on your back every time you walk out the door. So we need our allies to also stand with us and make sure we’re protected and make sure we’re safe.”
Asked what she thought about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson coming out against him, Waithe replied, “Police ain’t always been protecting and serving brown and queer people. They could do a better job of that. I don’t always believe police. I tend to believe black people first.”
Inside the auditorium, Chris Rock took a different tone, thrashing the Empire actor.
Said Rock: “They said no Jussie Smollett jokes? I know! What a waste of light skin. You know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair? My career would be out of here! F**king running Hollywood!”
Added Rock: “What the hell was he thinking? From now on, you’re ‘Jessie’ from now on. You don’t even get the ‘U’ no more. That ‘U’ was respect. You don’t get no respect from me.”
Foxx said there were two main reasons why the charges were dropped.
“There were specific aspects of the evidence and testimony presented to the office that would have made securing a conviction against Smollett uncertain,” she said.
She added, “Another key factor is that the crime here was a Class 4 felony, the least serious category, which also covers things like falsely pulling a fire alarm in school and ‘draft card mutilation.’ These felonies are routinely resolved, particularly in cases involving suspects with no prior criminal record, long before a case ever nears a courtroom and often without either jail time or monetary penalties.”
She continued: “I was elected on a promise to rethink the justice system, to keep people out of prison who do not pose a danger to the community. I promised to spend my office’s finite resources on the most serious crimes in order to create communities that are both safer and fairer.”