Social-justice organization Black Lives Matter is still standing with Jussie Smollett after the actor was convicted Thursday of staging a racist, homophobic attack and lying to police about it.
But his old friend Don Lemon, the CNN anchor who once defended him amid allegations of a hoax, is not supporting him.
Smollett, best known for his role on the TV series “Empire,” was found guilty Thursday on five of six counts of disorderly conduct. His attorneys say they plan to appeal the decision, which legal experts have said bears a light penalty for the actor that would likely include probation and community service.
The charges stemmed from a January 2019 incident in downtown Chicago. Smollett, 39, told Chicago police at the time that he had been attacked by two masked assailants who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs at him as they hit him, poured a chemical substance on him and put a rope around his neck.
As authorities investigated the incident as a possible hate crime, numerous celebrities, politicians and other public figures spoke out in support of Smollett in 2019 and condemned the alleged attack.
Earlier this week, BLM backed Smollett during his criminal trial. After the verdict was announced late Thursday, BLM Los Angeles leader Melina Abdullah told TMZ that its stance hasn’t changed and Smollett still has the organization’s full support.
Representatives for BLM did not immediately respond Friday to The Times’ request for comment.
“As abolitionists, we approach situations of injustice with love and align ourselves with our community. Because we got us,” BLM said in a Tuesday statement. “So let’s be clear: we love everybody in our community. It’s not about a trial or a verdict decided in a white supremacist charade, it’s about how we treat our community when corrupt systems are working to devalue their lives. In an abolitionist society, this trial would not be taking place, and our communities would not have to fight and suffer to prove our worth.”
The organization also blasted the Chicago Police Department, which it said has “has proven time and again to have no respect for our lives.”
“In our commitment to abolition, we can never believe police, especially the Chicago Police Department (CPD) over Jussie Smollett, a Black man who has been courageously present, visible, and vocal in the struggle for Black freedom,” Tuesday’s statement continued. “Black Lives Matter will continue to work towards the abolition of police and every unjust system. We will continue to love and protect one another, and wrap our arms around those who do the work to usher in Black freedom and, by extension, freedom for everyone else.”
Meanwhile, Lemon turned his back on Smollett during his CNN show Thursday night, calling the actor a liar who made it more difficult for real victims of hate crimes to come forward.
“He had to make up too many lies as to why he didn’t want to do certain things … to cover. Like another lie — and I guess he got caught up in that because he took the stand himself,” Lemon said on “Don Lemon Tonight.” “He got angry with the prosecutor as the prosecutor poked holes in his story — calling the only other witnesses liars.”
Lemon added: “Here’s what folks are concerned about — that what he did might undermine future victims, legitimate victims of hate crimes.”
Lemon didn’t mention that his own name came up during the trial. Smollett testified that the CNN host allegedly sent him a message informing him that Chicago police didn’t believe his account of what happened the night of the alleged attack — a revelation that spurred ethical questions for the journalist.
When the verdict was handed down Thursday, conservatives on Twitter also skewered the actor, as well as the liberal public figures who defended him — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, among them — in the initial stages of the investigation.
“Tonight, Jussie Smollett can rest knowing that his attacker has been convicted,” tweeted conservative pundit Ben Shapiro.
Times staff writer Tracy Brown contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.