Black-ish Star Jenifer Lewis on the Jussie Smollett Controversy: 'We Have to Have Compassion'
Speaking to PeopleTV on the Red Carpet Live special at the 2019 Oscars on Sunday, the black-ish star weighed in as the actor stands accused of filing a false report claiming two men attacked him in an apparent hate crime last month.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I am one of the most compassionate people on this planet. I love people. I’m an entertainer,” said Lewis, 62. “But when we make a mistake — I mean, who knows the true story? But I do know that we have to have compassion. But more than that, there has to be consequences — for whatever happened.”
“Because the temperament of the country right now, it’s fragile,” she continued. “All I can say is let’s all put one foot forward and stand with each other. We need to unite now. It doesn’t matter who does what, because it’s going to be a lot of things going on. Our job is to stand together on the frontline and say, ‘No!’ when we know it’s not right.”
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On Thursday, Chicago police held a press conference in which they alleged the Empire star paid $3,500 to stage a “bogus” attack against him to draw attention to himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary. (A source denied to PEOPLE that Smollett, 36, had any sort of issue with his pay, saying, “There’s never been a dissatisfaction with his salary.”)
Smollett, who is black and gay, was arrested on Thursday morning after turning himself in to police, one day after he was charged. He presented in bond court on Thursday afternoon, where a judge set his bond at $100,000; he was released after posting $10,000 bond. He has also been asked to surrender his passport. His next hearing is scheduled for March 14.
He’s facing a felony charge of disorderly conduct. If convicted, he could serve up to three years in prison.
Smollett has maintained his innocence. In a statement released by his attorneys after the press conference, the actor’s legal team said that “presumption of innocence … was trampled upon” in the Empire star’s case.
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” the statement began. “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon has since been removed from the final two episodes of season 5 to “avoid further disruption on set,” the Fox show’s executive producers said in a statement.
The 91st Academy Awards are broadcasting live from Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT on ABC.