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Jussie Smollett found guilty of staging attack

Actor charged with orchestrating hate crime

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Jussie Smollett (Blade file Screenshot via YouTube)

The jury in the case of actor Jussie Smollett has reached a guilty verdict in his trial on five felony charges that he faked a hate crime and was responsible for orchestrating it in January 2019.

The jury deliberated for just over nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after the one week trial saw closing testimony and arguments Wednesday afternoon.

Smollett, 39, convicted on five counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony, is facing potential sentencing of up to three years in prison. According to a Chicago criminal defense attorney speaking on background, he contended that based on his experience with the legal system in the Chicago court system, that the actor will likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Smollett testifying in his own defence told the court that he was physically attacked around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two men who hurled homophobic and racist slurs at him including the phrase ‘MAGA country,” a reference to former president Trump’s presidential campaign slogan.

The former “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.

The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett was charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

After initially investigating the incident as a hate crime, Chicago detectives in their sworn affidavits and testimony noted that their investigation uncovered that Smollett paid brothers Olabinjo “Ola” and Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo, who are from Nigeria to stage the attack.

During their testimony last week, the Osundairo brothers told the court that the actor had recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago. They testified that Smollett who is openly gay and Black instructed them to put a noose around his neck, yell racist and homophobic slurs, and rough him up in view of a nearby surveillance camera.

Evidence presented by the prospectors showed the two brothers in a local retail store purchasing the rope and other items used to stage the attack that Chicago police determined the actor paid for.

On Wednesday, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury that Smollett caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating what they believe was a fake crime the Associated Press reported.

“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said.

Webb also cast doubts on Smollett’s integrity and credibility in his testimony telling jurors that the surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that later night contradicts key moments of Smollett’s account of the events.

Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche disputed the Osundairo brothers testimony labeling them “sophisticated liars” who may have been motivated to attack the actor because of homophobia or because they wanted to be hired to work as his security. “These guys want to make money,” he told the court.

The special prosecutor during the trial also took aim at the actor’s refusal to turn over his cellphone to investigators or give them a DNA sample or access to his medical records to help with the investigation. Smollett testified he doesn’t trust Chicago police, and that he was concerned about his privacy.

“If he was a true victim of a crime he would not be withholding evidence,” Webb said.

Smollett’s defense attorney told the court that it was “nonsense” for police to ask the actor for his DNA when he was still considered the victim of a crime. He also noted Smollett later provided DNA to the FBI for a separate investigation into hate mail he had received at the studio for the ‘Empire’ shortly before the alleged attack. “He wasn’t hiding anything,” Uche said.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Smollett remained stoic as the verdict was announced. He was found guilty on five of six counts. The first five counts related to Smollett’s conduct on the day of the incident, while the sixth related to his conversation with a police detective.

Cook County Circuit Judge James Linn set a Jan. 27 hearing date for motions in the case prior to the actor’s sentencing.

The actor’s lawyers said after the today’s verdict that they are set to file an appeal but his legal problems also extend to the city of Chicago’s civil lawsuit against the “Empire” star demanding he repay the city $130,000 — the cost of the police investigation into the incident he reported as an alleged hate crime.

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Federal Government

Trump indicted in classified document mishandling case

Former president to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday

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Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

A federal grand jury has indicted former President Donald Trump on seven criminal counts in connection with his mishandling of more than 100 classified documents.

In a series of posts to his Truth Social account Thursday, Trump said that he has been indicted related to his mishandling of the classified documents taken to his estate at Mar-a-Lago after his term of office ended in January 2021.

The unprecedented decision comes after a more than yearlong investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into whether Trump knowingly retained classified and top secret government records when he left office and then disregarded a subpoena to return all classified documents in his possession and whether he and his staff obstructed Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts to ensure all documents had been returned.

A person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly said Trump’s lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted, the Associated Press reported.

In the first of a series of posts Trump wrote:

“Page 1: The corrupt Biden administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax, even though Joe Biden has 1850 boxes at the University of Delaware, additional Boxes in Chinatown, D.C., with even more boxes at the University of Pennsylvania, and documents strewn all over his garage floor where he parks his Corvette, and which is ‘secured’ by only a garage door that is paper thin, and open much of the time.”

“Page 2: I have been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday at 3 p.m. I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting president in the history of our country, and is currently leading, by far, all candidates, both Democrat and Republican, in Polls of the 2024 presidential election. I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

“Page 3: This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America. We are a country in serious and rapid decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

The AP also noted it remains unclear what the immediate and long-term political consequences will be for Trump. His first indictment spurred millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and didn’t damage Trump in the polls.

No matter what, the indictment — and the legal fight that follows — will throw Trump back into the spotlight, sucking attention away from the other candidates who are trying to build momentum in the 2024 presidential race, the AP pointed out.

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The White House

White House debuts new actions to protect the LGBTQ community

The administration is coordinating efforts across different federal agencies

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, announced a slate of new actions the administration will undertake to better protect the LGBTQ community.

These will focus on three major areas, she said: safety and security, issues for LGBTQ youth like mental health and housing insecurity, and combatting book bans.

President Joe Biden has “already developed a historic record of supporting the LGBTQ community,” Tanden said, noting that he and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are also prepared to “host the largest Pride celebration in White House history” on Thursday evening.

At the same time, she said, LGBTQ Americans are now experiencing “a whole range of attacks” from “hateful, un-American legislation” to “a disturbing surge in violent threats.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the administration’s “community safety partnership” will “work hand in hand with LGBTQ community organizations” to provide safety training and resources, Tanden said.

For example, she said, “and it’s so unfortunate to have to say this,” but the partnership will help LGBTQ community centers “prepare for the worst” – including “bomb threats, active shooters, and cybersecurity threats – while also protecting “healthcare providers who serve the community by working with doctors and medical associations.”

Actions for LGBTQ kids that Tanden previewed on Wednesday include HHS’s development of a behavioral health care advisory for transgender and gender diverse youth, to help ensure young people are given the best evidence-based care.

On Thursday, she said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will launch federal initiatives to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness and new regulations to “protect LGBTQ kids in foster care.”

Finally, Tanden said, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “will appoint a new coordinator” to combat book bans, which disproportionately target, for exclusion, materials with LGBTQ characters or themes, or communities of color.

DoE’s coordinator will “offer trainings and resources to schools to help them understand that students have a right to learn free from discrimination, and that book bands may violate federal civil rights laws if they create a hostile environment for students,” Tanden said.

A senior administration official, responding to a question from the Washington Blade following Tanden’s remarks, elaborated on the scope of the community safety partnership.

Community organizations, they said, will include “health clinics, community centers, and organizations that are planning Pride celebrations, but it also includes small businesses like restaurants and bars that have been targeted because they’re run by LGBTQI+ Americans or because they host events that support that community.”

“We’ll be encouraging and reaching out directly to organizations that have been impacted by these violent threats to help make sure that they have the training and the resources they need to stay safe,” the official said.

They added that DHS and DoJ, in anticipation of the possibility that threats will increase in June, “have both been working proactively over many months leading up to Pride to communicate with state and local law enforcement about the threats that the community may face and to help local pride organizers get access to any federal safety resources they may need to help keep the community safe.”

Asked to explain how HHS’s healthcare focused initiatives will be reconciled with restrictions targeting medical interventions for trans youth in conservative states, the official noted ongoing efforts to fight back – including by federal rulemaking and litigated challenges of policies that violate Americans’ rights.

When it comes to the actions previewed by Tanden, the official said, “Almost half of LGBTQI+ youth say they seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, and that attacks on their rights have made their mental health worse. That’s a serious crisis that we want to take on and this advisory will help.”

Additionally, they said, “HHS is announcing that they’re going to release new guidance to states to help them use federal funds to offer dedicated mental health services to the LGBTQI+ community,” while “the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSA, is releasing $1.7 million in new federal funding for programs that support the health and mental health of LGBTQI+ youth by investing in programs that are focused on family affirmation.”

Responding to other questions about anti-LGBTQ legislation and the rising transphobic and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, the official offered some insight into the Biden-Harris administration’s positions on these matters more broadly.

“Part of our role here is to lift up the stories of transgender kids and their families to help the American people understand what is happening to families who, as the President says aren’t hurting anyone but are being hurt by these laws,” said the official.

“These aren’t just attacks on the rights of LGBTQI+{ Americans, they are part and parcel of a coordinated attack on our democracy,” they said. “We’re not just talking about laws that target transgender kids. These are really laws that get at the heart of our basic freedoms and values: the right to free expression, the right to make decisions about your own body, the right to parent and raise your children.”

The official added, “Opponents of LGBTQI+ Americans are leading a pretty significant campaign of disinformation,” which have included “the same types of hateful lies and stereotypes that have been used against our community really for decades and for generations.”

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California

Calif. school district meeting over LGBTQ studies turns violent

Police officers and protestors clashed outside Glendale Unified School Board meeting

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(YouTube screenshot from KCAL)

Police officers and protestors clashed outside a meeting of the Glendale Unified School Board over LGBTQ studies and the GUSD polices on addressing LGBTQ related issues.

News footage from CBS Los Angeles KCAL showed approximately 50 Glendale police officers attempting to keep the two groups separated and then fists were thrown as both sides engaged in physical assaults. A Glendale police spokesperson confirmed that some arrests had been made but wouldn’t comment further.

Witnesses and news crews noted that many of those protesting against the LGBTQ community were from the same group that had protested at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood, angered over a Pride month assembly. Officers from the LAPD’s North Hollywood Community Station responded and there were physical assaults as well.

The situation in Glendale has become increasingly acrimonious. Last year during Pride month, a third grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, Tammy Tiber, had enraged some parents after speaking to her students about LGBTQ topics on Zoom. The GUSD officials later transferred her because Tiber had told them she no longer felt safe.

A spokesperson for the district said that all materials are vetted by the GUSD, and are in full compliance with curriculum that deals with LGBTQ history, mandated under California’s FAIR Education Act, which was signed into law on July 14, 2011, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

It amends the California Education Code to include the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful reference to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum.

Last month on May 18, a man who is not the parent of a child in the district, accused GUSD school board vice president Jennifer Freemon of concealing consistent attempts to “indoctrinate” students on LGBTQ issues.

“They are saying boys can be girls and girls can be boys,” Henry said during the board meeting. “If you believe in that, that is your opinion, and if that is your official policy, Jennifer, that is indoctrination because it offends a lot of people’s actual doctrine.”

As an example of instructing students to “behave inappropriately,” Henry referenced an alleged recent incident involving a student with special needs. GUSD student Thelma Gonzalez, who spoke later in the meeting, was allegedly asked to provide the definition of “scissoring” during a health lesson, despite her mother requesting that she be excused.

“A violation of their doctrine, their Christian doctrine,” Henry said, referring to Gonzalez and her mother. “Regardless of what you think, what I think, what the community thinks about any faith, you violated that. And if you don’t condemn that today, Jennifer, you are a hypocrite and a liar.”

He then mounted an attack on district polices regarding its transgender students.

“If you think they value your children, you’re more than entitled to think that,” Henry said. “They will not lie to you about your child, they will lie to these parents. They will conceal that private information from parents. You have enshrined that into doctrine, into policy, which is a misinterpretation of the law.”

It is not immediately clear what policy Henry was referring to. However, GUSD’s anti-discrimination policy states the district will only disclose a student’s “transgender or gender-nonconforming status” with their consent. It also mandates that a district official may discuss with that same student “any need” to confide in their parents or guardians.

Inside the Tuesday GUSD board meeting, pro- and anti-LGBTQ protesters faced off over how schools teach gender and sexuality, attendees were suddenly told to shelter in place as the violence outside escalated. The interruption came after about an hour of public comments, most of them in defense of the LGBTQ community and the district’s handling of materials and policies.

Protesters fight outside Glendale school district meeting about LGBTQ studies:

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