Just because a prosecutor chooses not to file charges against someone does not mean that person has been exonerated of all crimes.
This seems like an important piece of information to keep in mind these days.
It applies to both a certain President of the United States and also a certain actor on the FOX drama Empire.
In the latter instance, of course, we're talking about Jussie Smollett, the polarizing star who was indicted on 16 felony counts a few weeks ago, all of which related to an alleged attack on the streets of Chicago around 2 a.m. on January 29.
You must know all the relevant details by now, right?
Smollett claimed he was attacked by two white men who screamed about "MAGA Country," while also hurling racial and anti-gay epithets at him, prior to placing a noose around his neck and pouring bleach all over him.
The reported hate crime made national news.
But then police started to question various details of Smollett's story, eventually arresting him for falsifying a police report.
Cops in The Windy City believed Smollett staged his own attack for publicity purposes and demand he apologize for wasting their time, money and resources -- while also making a mockery of similar, very real hate crimes.
Fast forward a couple weeks to yesterday, however, and all the charges against Smollett were dropped.
It was a stunning development.
"Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him," read a statement issued by Smollett's lawyers shortly after the news broke.
"He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public, causing an inappropriate rush to judgment," continued this message.
HOWEVER, the Chicago Police Department and Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, later went public with their own remarks...
... making it clear they were happy to still judge Smollett for what they believe to be his illegal actions.
"This is a whitewash of justice," a visibly angry Emanuel told reporters, adding:
"I’d like to remind everybody a grand jury indicted this individual based on only a piece of the evidence that the police had collected in that period of time. So a grand jury actually brought the charges.”
Emanuel went on to plainly say that Smollett "did this in the name of self-promotion."
Elsewhere, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson - who was previously so vocal in denouncing Smollett for the phony assault - said he stood by his department's work and thought the charges against the Empire actor were justified.
"I’m sure we all know what occurred this morning," he said. "My personal opinion is that you all know where I stand in this. Do I think justice was served? No. I think this city is still owed an apology."
"If someone accused me of doing anything that would circumvent [my integrity], then I would want my day in court. Period. I’ve heard that they [Smollett legal team] wanted their day in court with TV cameras so America could know the truth.
"But no, they chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system. My job as a police officer is to investigate an incident, gather evidence, gather the facts and present them to the State’s Attorney.
"That’s what we did. I stand behind the detective’s investigation."
As detailed below, meanwhile, even the attorney who decided to drop the charges against Smollett doesn't think the actor is innocent.
First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats said on Tuesday that he stands "behind the investigation" and:
"The mere fact that it was disposed of in an alternative manner does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities in the case or the evidence."
Ummm, so why let Smollett walk free and declare victory?
"Here's the thing -- we work to prioritize violent crime and the drivers of violent crime," Magats said. "Public safety is our number one priority. I don't see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety."
The fact that Smollett committed to two days of community service also seems to have somehow played a role in this baffling decision.
For his part, Smollett thanked God and his supporters and emphasized his innocence in a statement outside the courthouse yesterday morning, saying:
"I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of doing one drop of what I was accused of."
And this REALLY pissed Emanuel off.
"Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent, still running down the Chicago police department. How dare him. How dare him.” the Mayor said.
“Even after this whitewash, still, no sense of ownership over what he has done. … This is a person now who has been let off scot-free with no sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions.
You have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books to protect people who are minorities from violence to then turn around and use those laws to advance your career and your financial reward.
Is there no decency in this man?