Jussie Smollett case shines light on Chicago’s litany of unsolved crimes
Rashad Pratt had been sitting in his SUV nearly seven years ago, near his mother’s Chicago home, when a man approached with a gun and shot him in the chest, fatally piercing his heart.
“It’s still an open case,” lamented his brother, Dr. Abdullah Pratt, who practices at the University of Chicago Medical Center emergency room, not far from where he grew up on the South Side. “Me personally, of course, I want more resources dedicated. Whether that actually helps or not, I don’t know.”
Across Chicago, some residents are questioning the investigative efforts dedicated to uncovering the truth behind the racist, homophobic attack police say was orchestrated by “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we are giving to this particular incident,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters before the actor was arrested on suspicion of filing a false report.
Smollett told authorities he was attacked early January 29 by two men who were “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs.” He said one attacker put a rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him.
Police superintendent lamented resources could have been deployed elsewhere
A team of detectives investigating the possible hate crime canvassed the area and interviewed more than 100 people, police said. They located more than 20 private-sector surveillance cameras and about 35 police cameras, and viewed hours of footage.
Investigators scoured cell phone and financial records, police said. They tracked down two brothers Smollett allegedly paid to carry out the incident through cabs and rideshares they took after the reported attack. After learning the men had traveled to Nigeria, detectives met the brothers at customs when they returned.
Johnson said Smollett was given no more attention than any other alleged crime victim but he lamented that resources devoted to the investigation could have been deployed elsewhere.
“The detective work that we have seen in this case is indicative of the work that our detectives do every day in this city,” he said.
Pratt, 29, has a closeup view of the gun violence that plagues the city — which, according to the Chicago Tribune, has a homicide clearance rate of about 17%.
“The more people that you see that have these unsolved murders in their families and unsolved crimes, it kind of puts that in proper context,” he said. “You say, Ok, I’m not the only one suffering and feeling this way.”
The young physician speaks at block parties and community forums, and teaches residents to use tourniquets on trauma wounds from gunfire and stabbings. He shares the story of his own loss with grieving families. At the hospital, he has to tell parents their child has succumbed to bullet wounds. And he often attends funerals for gun violence victims.
“It’s a natural emotion for most people to feel like, OK, maybe if I had a couple of extra detectives on this case it would have been solved,” Pratt said. “There are times when I’m jealous of cases that get solved. You think selfishly sometimes.”
Still, he understands why police would devote resources to a high-profile case that involved a celebrity claiming to be the victims of a racist and homophobic attack. The same can be said about media attention.
“It doesn’t shock me at all,” Pratt said of the attention given to the Smollett investigation. “It’s really more of the same when you look at Chicago and Illinois and the politics. Is it upsetting? Of course, it’s upsetting. I could think of a million topics that could take precedence over that one incident.”
‘It shouldn’t take star status to get justice’
In the weeks since the alleged attack, a series of twists in Smollett’s story transformed him from victim to suspect.
The actor has stood by his initial claims that he was attacked. Celebrities and politicians lent their support, but there were doubters. The backlash grew louder as social media users questioned the Smollett’s claims after police said they could not find video of the incident from area surveillance cameras.
“There are so many other crimes that happen in Chicago and they haven’t even solved those,” said Sabrina Harris, whose 19-year-old son, Bryan, was shot and killed August 14 at a convenience store in Harvey, a south suburb of Chicago.
Taijean Hall, 17, also was killed. Two young men were later arrested in connection with the shootings.
“What made Jussie Smollett so special? It shouldn’t take star status to get some justice for anybody,” Harris said.
Arlene Scott said her son, Clifton Barney, 17, was fatally shot in his South Side neighborhood on May 17, 2013. She said hasn’t spoken to the homicide detective on the case in nearly two years. The resources dedicated to the Smollett case didn’t surprise her.
“There are certain cases they will focus on versus the young teenagers (who are) pretty much killing each other,” she said.
The Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church on the West Side, told CNN affiliate WGN that he’s been waiting 11 years to know what happened to his cousin, Yasmin. She was thought to be a missing person until evidence suggested she may have been kidnapped.
“Why so many resources for this case?” he said of the Smollett investigation. “No one was put in harm’s way. No one was shot. No one was killed… You shouldn’t have to be wealthy or famous or popular to get the attention of the Chicago Police Department’s detective unit.”
Father Michael Pfleger, pastor at Saint Sabina Church and an activist on Chicago’s South Side, took to Facebook to complain about the investigative manpower on the Smollett case.
On the city’s South and West sides, he wrote this week, “we have HUNDREDS of Unsolved cases of Children Shot and Killed, and parents can’t even get a call back from a Detective.”