Actor Taraji P. Henson on Sunday came to the defense of her former “Empire” co-star Jussie Smollett following his 150-day jail sentence, citing the lynching of Emmett Till in calling for his release.
“I am not here to debate you on his innocence but we can agree that the punishment does not fit the crime,” Henson wrote on Instagram.
“Emmett Till was brutally beat and ultimately murdered because of a lie and none of the people involved with his demise spent one day in jail, even after Carolyn Bryant admitted that her claims were false,” Henson continued. “No one was hurt or killed during Jussie’s ordeal.”
She said Smollett, 39, is already being punished because he can no longer get a Hollywood acting job.
“My prayer is that he is freed and put on house arrest and probation because in this case that would seem fair. Please,” Henson wrote, with a #FreeJussie hashtag.
The hashtag was also used over the weekend by Smollett’s sister,= Jurnee Smollett, who is also an actor.
“Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of White Americans. Jussie is innocent,” she wrote. “And … you don’t have to believe in his innocence to believe he should be free.”
Smollett’s brother Jocqui Smollett also professed his brother’s innocence Sunday. He said Smollett was being held in a “psych ward” at Chicago’s Cook County Jail.
Smollett was arrested on Feb. 21, 2019, after making a January 2019 report alleging that he had been brutally assaulted in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, said two men punched him, kicked him, used racist and homophobic slurs, threw a chemical in his face and wrapped a noose around his neck.
The police investigation led to the arrests of brothers Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, who were released. Authorities said at the time that Smollett had recruited the brothers to stage an attack to advance his career, a claim he denies.
Smollett was found guilty of five of the six charges against him, including felony disorderly conduct. He was found not guilty of aggravated battery.
Last month, Smollett filed paperwork seeking a new trial.
He was sentenced Thursday. “You’re just a charlatan pretending to be a victim of a hate crime,” Cook County Circuit Judge James Linn told Smollett while announcing the sentence.
Smollett responded by repeating, “I am not suicidal!” He said he was innocent and that “if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself.”
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Taraji P. Henson calls for Jussie Smollett’s release, cites Emmett Till’s lynching