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Dismissal of Smollett case brings backlash, more questions

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CHICAGO — Prosecutors still insist Jussie Smollett faked a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in the hopes that the attention would advance his acting career. The “Empire” star still says he was assaulted by two men late at night in downtown Chicago.

But with little explanation, authorities on Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against Smollett, abandoning the criminal case only five weeks after the allegations were filed. In return, prosecutors said, the actor agreed to let the city keep his $10,000 in bail.

The dismissal drew a swift backlash from the mayor and police chief and raised questions about why Smollett was not forced to admit what prosecutors had said they could prove in court — that the entire episode was a publicity stunt.

Among those sure to keep pressing for answers is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appeared blindsided by the decision. His voice rising in anger at times, Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett. He said Smollett had exploited hate-crime laws meant to protect minorities by turning the laws “inside out, upside down for only one thing — himself.”

“Where is the accountability in the system?” Emanuel asked. “You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else.”

Smollett has become a household name as a result of the case, but it’s unclear if the dropped charges will diminish the taint that followed his arrest last month. His insistence that he had been vindicated may make the entertainment industry cautious about fully embracing him.

Defence attorneys said Smollett’s record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report. The actor, who also agreed to do community service, insisted that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”

“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutors’ office said the dismissal came “after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case.” Tandra Simonton called it “a just disposition and appropriate resolution,” but said it was not an exoneration.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats said prosecutors “stand behind the investigation and the facts.”

When dropping cases, prosecutors will sometimes insist that the defendant accept at least a measure of responsibility. Outside court, neither Smollett nor his legal team appeared to concede anything about his original report in January .

Defence attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Smollett was “attacked by two people he was unable to identify” and “was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”

Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him.

Emanuel, who leaves office in May after two terms, said the hoax could endanger other gay people who report hate crimes by casting doubt on whether they are telling the truth.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Chicago “is still owed an apology.”

“I’ve heard that they wanted their day in court with TV cameras so that America could know the truth. They chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system,” he said.

Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation before Smollett was charged, citing conversations she had with a Smollett family member.

Many legal experts were surprised by the dismissal, especially the fact that it did not include any condition that Smollett apologize and admit he staged the assault.

“This situation is totally bizarre. It’s highly, highly unusual,” said Phil Turner, a Chicago defence attorney and former federal prosecutor with no ties to the case.

Smollett reported that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 on his way home from a sandwich shop. Investigators said he made the false report because he was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and believed it would promote his career.

The actor plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, which follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.

Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. He asserted that he could see one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.

Police said Smollett paid $3,500 to the two men, both of whom are black.

The men were brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked on “Empire.” An attorney for them, Gloria Schmidt, has said the brothers agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and the sense that he was helping their careers. They declined to comment.

Schmidt said in a statement Tuesday: “The Osundairo brothers were fully prepared to testify in any criminal proceeding in the Jussie Smollett case.”

On Wednesday, Smollett’s attorney told “Good Morning America” that the two brothers are lying. Tina Glandian said Smollett had hired one brother as a personal trainer, and that they discussed training and nutrition in the hours before the attack as Smollett’s flight to Chicago was delayed. But she said Smollett had no idea who attacked him until the brothers were later identified by police.

She said Smollett is a crime victim and “just wants his life back.”

Before the attack, police said, Smollett also sent a letter threatening himself to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot. The FBI, which is investigating that letter, has declined to comment.

Smollett said he wanted “nothing more than to get back to work.” But his future with the show was unclear. Shortly after the charges were filed, producers announced that his character would be removed from the final two episodes of the season.

Fox Television, which produces “Empire,” issued a one-sentence statement late Tuesday saying only that the company was “gratified” that the charges had been dropped.

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Associated Press Writer Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

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Check out the AP’scomplete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

Michael Tarm And Amanda Seitz, The Associated Press


















National Entertainment

Actor Danny Trejo helps save baby trapped in car in LA

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LOS ANGELES — Actor Danny Trejo played a real-life hero when he helped rescue a baby trapped in an overturned car after a collision at a Los Angeles intersection.

Authorities say two cars crashed Wednesday in the Sylmar neighbourhood.

Video aired by KABC-TV shows Trejo at the crash scene. Trejo says he crawled into the wrecked vehicle from one side but couldn’t unbuckle the child’s car seat from that angle. He says another bystander, a young woman, was able to undo the buckle.

Together they pulled the baby safely from the wreckage.

The Los Angeles Fire Department says three people were taken to a hospital, and there were no life-threatening injuries.

The 75-year-old Trejo, an L.A. native, is best known for playing the character Machete from the “Spy Kids” series.

The Associated Press


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National Entertainment

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison dead at 88

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Toni Morrison

NEW YORK — Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, a pioneer and reigning giant of modern literature whose imaginative power in “Beloved,” ”Song of Solomon” and other works transformed American letters by dramatizing the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race, has died at age 88.

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf announced that Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Morrison’s family issued a statement through Knopf saying she died after a brief illness.

“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the family announced. “She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.”

Few authors rose in such rapid, spectacular style. She was nearly 40 when her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was published. By her early 60s, after just six novels, she had become the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, praised in 1993 by the Swedish academy for her “visionary force” and for her delving into “language itself, a language she wants to liberate” from categories of black and white. Earlier this year, she was featured in an acclaimed documentary, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.”

Morrison helped raise American multiculturalism to the world stage and helped uncensor her country’s past, unearthing the lives of the unknown and the unwanted, those she would call “the unfree at the heart of the democratic experiment.” In her novels, history — black history — was a trove of poetry, tragedy, love, adventure and good old gossip, whether in small-town Ohio in “Sula” or big-city Harlem in “Jazz.” She regarded race as a social construct and through language founded the better world her characters suffered to attain. Morrison wove everything from African literature and slave folklore to the Bible and Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the most diverse, yet harmonious, of literary communities.

“Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me,” she said in her Nobel lecture. “It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge.”

Winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved,” she was one of the book world’s most regal presences, with her expanse of graying braids; her dark, discerning eyes; and warm, theatrical voice, able to lower itself to a mysterious growl or rise to a humorous falsetto. “That handsome and perceptive lady,” James Baldwin called her.

Her admirers were countless — from fellow authors, college students and working people to Barack Obama, who awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom; to Oprah Winfrey, who idolized Morrison and helped greatly expand her readership. Morrison shared those high opinions, repeatedly labeling one of her novels, “Love,” as “perfect” and rejecting the idea that artistic achievement called for quiet acceptance.

“Maya Angelou helped me without her knowing it,” Morrison told The Associated Press during a 1998 interview. “When she was writing her first book, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ I was an editor at Random House. She was having such a good time, and she never said, ‘Who me? My little book?’

“I decided that … winning the (Nobel) prize was fabulous,” Morrison added. “Nobody was going to take that and make it into something else. I felt representational. I felt American. I felt Ohioan. I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever. I felt all of that, and put all of that together and went out and had a good time.”

The second of four children of a welder and a domestic worker, Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a steel town outside of Cleveland. She was encouraged by her parents to read and to think, and was unimpressed by the white kids in her community. Recalling how she felt like an “aristocrat,” Morrison believed she was smarter and took it for granted she was wiser. She was an honours student in high aschool, and attended Howard University because she dreamed of life spent among black intellectuals.

At Howard, she spent much of her free time in the theatre (she had a laugh that could easily reach the back row) and met and married a Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison, whom she divorced in 1964. They had two children, Harold and Slade.

But although she went on to teach there, Howard disappointed her. Campus life seemed closer to a finishing school than to an institution of learning. Protesters, among them former Morrison student Stokely Carmichael, were demanding equality. Morrison wanted that, too, but wondered what kind.

“I thought they wanted to integrate for nefarious purposes,” she said. “I thought they should demand money in those black schools. That was the problem — the resources, the better equipment, the better teachers, the buildings that were falling apart — not being in some high school next to some white kids.”

In 1964, she answered an ad to work in the textbook division of Random House. Over the next 15 years, she would have an impact as a book editor, and as one of the few black women in publishing, that alone would have ensured her legacy. She championed emerging fiction authors such as Gayl Jones and Toni Cade Bambara, helped introduce U.S. readers to such African writers as Wole Solinka, worked on a memoir by Muhammad Ali and topical books by such activists as Angela Davis and Black Panther Huey Newton. A special project was editing “The Black Book,” a collection of everything from newspaper advertisements to song lyrics that anticipated her immersion in the everyday lives of the past.

By the late ’60s, she was a single mother and a determined writer who had been pushed by her future editor, Robert Gottlieb of Alfred A. Knopf, into deciding whether she’d write or edit. Seated at her kitchen table, she fleshed out a story based on a childhood memory of a black girl in Lorain — raped by her father — who desired blue eyes. She called the novel “The Bluest Eye.”

Morrison prided herself on the gift of applying “invisible ink,” making a point and leaving it to the reader to discover it, such as her decision to withhold the skin colour of her characters in “Paradise.” Her debut as an author came at the height of the Black Arts Movement and calls for literature as political and social protest. But Morrison criticized by indirection; she was political because of what she didn’t say. Racism and sexism were assumed; she wrote about their effects, whether in “The Bluest Eye” or in “Sula,” a story of friendship and betrayal between two black women.

“The writers who affected me the most were novelists who were writing in Africa: Chinua Achebe, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ was a major education for me,” Morrison, who had studied William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf as a graduate student, told the AP in 1998.

“They took their black world for granted. No black writer (in America) had done that except for Jean Toomer with ‘Cane.’ Everybody else had some confrontation with white people, which was not to say that Africans didn’t, but there was linguistically an assumption. The language was the language of the centre of the world, which was them.

“So that made it possible for me to write ‘The Bluest Eye’ and not explain anything. That was wholly new! It was like a step into an absolutely brand new world. It was liberating in a way nothing had been before!”

She had no agent and was rejected by several publishers before reaching a deal with Holt, Rhinehart and Winston (now Henry Holt and Company), which released the novel in 1970. Sales were modest, but her book made a deep impression on The New York Times’ John Leonard, an early and ongoing champion of her writing, which he called “so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”

Setting her stories in segregated communities, where incest and suicide were no more outrageous then a sign which reads “COLORED ONLY,” Morrison wrote of dreamers for whom the price was often death, whether the mother’s tragic choice to murder her baby girl — and save it from slavery — in “Beloved,” or the black community that implodes in “Paradise.”

Like Faulkner, her characters are burdened by the legacy, and ongoing tragedy, of slavery and separation. For Faulkner’s white Southerners, losers of the Civil War, the price is guilt, rage and madness; for Morrison’s slaves and their descendants, supposedly liberated, history follows like the most unrelenting posse.

“The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind,” Morrison wrote in “Beloved,” in which the ghost of the slain daughter returns to haunt and obsess her mother.

“And if it didn’t stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life — every day was a test and a trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem.”

Morrison’s breakthrough came in 1977 with “Song of Solomon,” her third novel and the story of young Milkman Dead’s sexual, social and ancestral education. It was the first work by a black writer since Richard Wright’s “Native Son” to be a full Book-of-the-Month selection and won the National Book Critics Circle award. It was also Morrison’s first book to centre on a male character, a novel which enabled her “get out of the house, to de-domesticate the landscape.”

But the mainstream was another kind of education. Reviewing “Song of Solomon,” author Reynolds Price chided Morrison for “the understandable but weakening omission of active white characters.” (He later recanted). When “Beloved” was overlooked for a National Book Award, a letter of protest from 48 black writers, including Angelou and Amiri Baraka, was published in The New York Times Book Review, noting that Morrison had never won a major literary prize.

“Beloved” went on to win the Pulitzer and Morrison soon ascended to the very top of the literary world, winning the Nobel and presiding as unofficial laureate of Winfrey’s book club, founded in 1996. Winfrey chose “Song of Solomon,” ”The Bluest Eye,” ”Paradise” and “Sula” over the years and would list all of Morrison’s works as among her favourites. Winfrey also starred in and helped produce the 1998 film version of “Beloved.”

As with so many other laureates, Morrison’s post-Nobel fiction was viewed less favourably than her earlier work. Morrison received no major competitive awards after the Nobel and was criticized for awkward plotting and pretentious language in “Love” and “Paradise.” But a novel published in 2008, “A Mercy,” was highly praised. “Home,” a brief novel about a young Korean War veteran, came out in 2012 and was followed three later by a contemporary drama, “God Help the Child.”

Morrison’s other works included “Playing in the Dark,” a collection of essays; “Dreaming Emmet,” a play about the slain teenager Emmett Till; and several children’s books co-authored with her son, Slade Morrison (who died of cancer in 2010). In November 2016, she wrote a highly cited New York essay about the election of Donald Trump, calling his ascension to the presidency a mark of what whites would settle for to hold on to their status.

“So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenceless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble,” she wrote.

“William Faulkner understood this better than almost any other American writer. In ‘Absalom, Absalom,’ incest is less of a taboo for an upper-class Southern family than acknowledging the one drop of black blood that would clearly soil the family line. Rather than lose its “whiteness” (once again), the family chooses murder.”

She taught for years at Princeton University, from which she retired in 2006, but also had an apartment in downtown Manhattan and a riverfront house in New York’s Rockland County that burned down in 1993, destroying manuscripts, first editions of Faulkner and other writers and numerous family mementoes. She had the house rebuilt and continued to live and work there.

“When I’m not thinking about a novel, or not actually writing it, it’s not very good; the 21st century is not a very nice place. I need it (writing) to just stay steady, emotionally,” she told the AP in 2012.

“When I finished ‘The Bluest Eye,’ … I was not pleased. I remember feeling sad. And then I thought, ‘Oh, you know, everybody’s talking about “sisterhood,'” I wanted to write about what women friends are really like. (The inspiration for ‘Sula’). All of a sudden the whole world was a real interesting place. Everything in it was something I could use or discard. It had shape. The thing is — that’s how I live here.”

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died.

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88.

She was the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, awarded in 1993. The Swedish academy hailed her use of language and her “visionary force.”

Her novel “Beloved,” in which a mother makes a tragic choice to murder her baby to save the girl from slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press





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