How the Jussie Smollett case could impact hate crime victims

Local advocates of hate crime victims hope Jussie Smollett's case doesn't negatively affect those victims.

"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett was charged with filing a false police report. He's accused of staging a homophobic and racist attack to further his career.

"Any time someone fakes being attacked or fakes being a victim, it just makes it that much harder for the actual victims to prove their case," said Kelli Cotter, co-owner of Toast in Durham. The restaurant is part of the Durham Police Department's "Safe Place" program.

"If someone feels that they are being threatened or they're in danger of a hate crime or have experienced a hate crime, they can come here as a refuge," Cotter said. "We call the police for them. They wait here where it's safe until the police get here."

Impact on Hate Crime Victims

Kori Hennessey, of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, said the Smollett case could impact hate crime victims. Hennessey said the center helps victims of hate crimes, which are vastly underreported.

"It can definitely make things harder because people are like well, it's like the boy who cried wolf, right," Hennessey said. "We don't want to have these issues keep popping up because anybody who has a serious situation trying to get the help they need may have a harder time because of some of these things."

Hennessey hopes the opposite will happen."It also gives a little more of visibility to the people that do have these issues with hate crimes," Hennessey said.

False Police Reports

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said there were 44 cases of false reports to law enforcement filed in fiscal year 2017-2018.

It's a class 2 misdemeanor if you file a false police report in North Carolina. It is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

"It is always difficult to determine whether someone is being truthful when filing a police report," said Captain Joe Binns, of the Garner Police Department. "Officers have to approach each reported crime incident with an open mind and let the evidence lead their investigation. We always want to believe the victim of a crime but the evidence must point in that direction. Depending on what they are reporting, there are many things we look at to validate what they are telling us. Everything from the victim's demeanor, what they say, how they say it, and other physical evidence can corroborate or debunk the victim's story. The biggest concern when these false reports do occur is the amount of time and energy wasted that could have been used to help real victims with their cases. Real victims do suffer because there is only so many hours in a day that officers can devote to a case."
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