Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of the Fox television show “Empire,” was attacked in Chicago early Tuesday morning by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs and wrapped a rope around his neck, according to the police, who said they were investigating the incident as “a possible hate crime.”
Smollett, who is black and publicly came out as gay in 2015, was walking on a downtown street when two people approached him and yelled the slurs, according to a statement from the Chicago Police Department. The attackers then began hitting Smollett in the face and poured an “unknown chemical substance” on him.
One of the attackers also wrapped a rope around Smollett’s neck before the duo fled.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” the police statement said.
The Chicago Sun-Times, citing a police spokesman, said that Smollett went to an apartment after the attack, and his manager called the police. When officers arrived, a “thin, light rope” was still around Smollett’s neck, said the spokesman.
Officers suggested Smollett go to the hospital for lacerations on his face and neck. His manager took him there, and he was later released.
In a follow-up interview later in the morning, The Sun-Times reported, Smollett told the police that the attackers yelled “this is MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s campaign slogan.
The newspaper also reported that the F.B.I. was looking into a letter sent to Fox offices in Chicago last week that contained threatening language toward Smollett and a white powdery substance.
On Tuesday night, the police said in a statement that the area where Smollett said the attack occurred had “very high density of city and private surveillance cameras.” Detectives had viewed hundreds of hours of video but “unfortunately, thus far we have not found any helpful information on a suspect or a suspect’s vehicle to be able to share,” the statement said. The police were widening their search to cameras from surrounding areas.
Representatives for Smollett did not respond to a request for comment. 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement on Tuesday expressing outrage at the attack and saying that the “entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate.”
Glaad, an organization that tracks representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the media, released a statement that said that it had reached out to Fox and Smollett’s team “to offer assistance as well as support for him.”
“Jussie is a true champion for L.G.B.T.Q. people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world,” the group said.
Smollett, in addition to his acting, is also a singer and is well-known as an activist, particularly in H.I.V./AIDS prevention. On “Empire,” Smollett plays Jamal Lyon, the gay son of the music moguls Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard, and Cookie Lyon, portrayed by Taraji P. Henson.
Smollett has been a prominent ally of advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign. Last year he released an album called “Sum of My Music” and gave a portion of a summer tour’s proceeds to the Black AIDS Institute, of which he is a board member.
Lee Daniels, a co-creator of “Empire,” said in a video posted to Instagram, “Jussie, you are my son. You didn’t deserve, nor anybody deserves, to have a noose put around your neck.”
Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both wrote on Twitter that the attack was an “attempted modern-day lynching,” and Booker urged the House to take up a bill passed by the Senate that enhances penalties in lynching cases.
Both of his parents, Janet Smollett and Joel Smollett Sr., were civil rights activists. He comes from a family of performers: he and all five of his siblings were cast on the 1994 ABC sitcom “On Our Own.” Jurnee Smollett-Bell, a sister, has appeared on the TV series “Underground,” “True Blood” and “Friday Night Lights.”
Hate crimes have been rising in recent years; According to the most recent nationwide data from the F.B.I., they increased 17 percent in 2017 from the year before.
Of the more than 7,100 recorded incidents attributed to prejudice in 2017, roughly 60 percent were caused by biases involving race, ethnicity and ancestry. About 16 percent were attacks on sexual orientation.
Hate crimes are generally underreported. The F.B.I. survey was based on self-reporting from more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies.
The Chicago Police Department reported 41 hate crimes in 2017, down from 51 the year before, according to the F.B.I. Of the 41, 16 were attacks on a person’s race or ethnicity; eight were related to sexual orientation or gender identity; and 17 were motivated by religious bias.
By Sopan Deb - New York Times