In the news today at the Chicago Tribune (and pretty much everywhere else): “Mayor Emanuel blasts decision to drop charges against ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett: ‘This is not on the level’.” The State’s Attorney’s office claims that “eh, he would have just gotten community service anyway and he’s a stand-up guy who already volunteers” (or, quoted rather than cynically paraphrased, “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case”) is hard to swallow, especially when the record is being sealed for no identified reason and when the mayor and chief of police are (rightly) pissed, the police union had previously called for an investigation into whether Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had tried to interfere in the investigation, and when the events which transpired were (bearing in the usual caveats around “allegedly, etc.”) so egregious, with Smollett’s hate crime accusation tarring a city as prejudiced and with unbelievable numbers of man-hours spent reviewing footage to find the alleged perpetrators.
And the city is one week away from an election in which the two candidates are pretty much indistinguishable (do you vote for the progressive-identifying black grandmother or the progressive-identifying black female LGBTQ person?) except that one of them (yes, Lori Lightfoot) has taken on the mantle of reform and given her supporters reason to hope that she will fight against machine politics and the other (Toni Taxwinkle, I mean, Toni Preckwinkle) trying, near as I can tell, to get voters to overlook her pop tax and view her as the one who is capable of actually running the city based on her administrative experience as Cook County Board President.
And I’m told that the timing of the charge-dropping is entirely unconnected to the election, and it’s more of a spat between the state’s attorney’s office and the police, a means of sending a message of f*** you that the police will hear loud and clear.But it makes me angry. It is in fact a week before an election in which voters have one choice to make and that’s whether to vote against the machine or not. (Again, these candidates are very similar, and, near as I can tell, their differences are not issues of overall principles.)
This action by Foxx’s office tells Chicago voters, “corruption is here to stay.” Will that boost Lightfoot’s chances? I worry that the opposite will happen, that Chicago voters will feel all the more resigned that everyone is corrupt, and your best bet is to be a beneficiary rather than a victim of corruption.
After all — well, readers, in my Prior Life as an actuary at a consulting firm, we needed to view an anti-corruption training session annually, not so much as actuaries, but because the actuarial business was just one part of a bigger whole that was focused on insurance brokerage and dealt with global clients. The message that was repeated over and over again was, essentially, “no, bribery is not just a ‘cost of doing business’ in various developing countries and even if you think that every else is doing it, it is not permitted for us to engage in it.” I am also reminded of various attempts to convince teenagers that, no, everyone else is not “doing it” (whether the “it” is having sex or drinking or doing drugs), because it matters so much whether they think of a particular behavior as simply the norm or not. And here, too, the same principle holds: the more inured Chicagoans are to corruption, the more tolerant they’ll be — and given that corruption has real, tangible costs, that’s a terrible outcome.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wells_and_Adams_Street,_Chicago_Loop,_Chicago,_Illinois_(9181614950).jpg; By Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Because, no, I don’t have a picture that illustrates corruption, let alone fake hate crime attacks.