Updates to this story about the attack on Jussie Smollett appear below.
He’s starred on the FOX series Empire since the show’s premiere back in 2015, and now openly gay actor Jussie Smollett finds himself in the headlines for the worst of reasons. According to TMZ, Smollett was the victim of a hate crime in Chicago and is currently hospitalized.
The hate crime allegedly took place around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29, in Chicago, where Jussie Smollett lives while filming Empire. According to a report, two men wearing ski masks approached him and placed a noose around his neck.
Sources directly connected to Jussie tell TMZ, the actor arrived in Chicago from New York late Monday, and at around 2 a.m. he was hungry and went to a Subway. We’re told when he walked out, someone yelled, “Aren’t you that faggot Empire n*****?”
The 2 men — both white and wearing ski masks — viciously attacked Jussie as he fought back, but they beat him badly and fractured a rib. They put a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him and as they left they yelled, “This is MAGA country.”
According to another outlet called The Grape Juice, Smollett had recently received a harassing letter that read “You will die black fag.”
A picture of the letter sent to Jussie Smollett is pictured below. It appears that where the return address should go, it reads “MAGA,” an abbreviation of the phrase “Make America Great Again” that was used by Donald Trump in his election campaign for president.
TMZ says the Chicago Police Department is investigating the apparent hate crime against Jussie Smollett as a battery.
The actor was reportedly treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital following the attack, and he’s already been released.
On the show Empire, about a Black family with strong ties to the recording industry, Smollett’s character Jamal is also openly gay. Back in November 2018, Smollett spoke about the importance of the series showcasing a loving relationship between two Black men, which is still rare on TV.
UPDATE, 4:42 p.m. PST, Jan. 29: As of Tuesday evening, Chicago police have said they’ve canvassed the neighborhood where the alleged hate crime took place but have thus far found no security images or video of the incident. The police did, however, confirm footage of Jussie Smollett inside a Subway sandwich shop, alone, near the location of the reported crime.
Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi has said Chicago police have a dozen detectives on the case, along with FBI assistance.
CNN’s Don Lemon says he has personally spoken with Smollett, who confirms the attack indeed took place. He was reportedly “shaken and angry” and told CNN he fought back against his attackers.
The substance which Smollett was doused with is reportedly still being tested, with no confirmation yet.
The Chicago police have also confirmed they are “taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime.”
UPDATE, 1:45 p.m. PST, Jan. 31: NBC News reports Chicago police have said Smollett is refusing to turn over his cellphone to detectives who are investigating the alleged attack.
Smollett has told police that he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack, and his manager has claimed he heard the alleged assailants say “This is MAGA country” during the assault.
According to CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi, when police asked the actor for his phone and records to confirm that call, he refused to share them. It’s unknown whether Chicago police will attempt to obtain them independently.
Smollett’s family has released a prepared statement today, saying, “Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice.”
After reviewing hundreds of hours of footage from more than a dozen surveillance cameras, the CPD says it’s unable to find footage of the alleged attack, though has found footage of Smollett heading to and from the neighborhood where the alleged incident occurred. And police have released photos taken from area cameras featuring two “potential people of interest.”
The Smollett family’s statement also included the following:
We want people to understand these targeted hate crimes are happening to our sisters, brothers and our gender non-conforming siblings, many who reside within the intersection of multiple identities, on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily basis all across our country.
Oftentimes ending fatally, these are inhumane acts of domestic terrorism and they should be treated as such. They will continue to occur until we hold each other accountable.
Make no mistake, words matter. Hateful words lead to hateful actions. Radical love is the only solution, but passivity will be our downfall. We, as a family, will continue to work for love, equity and justice until it reigns supreme in our nation and all over the world.
UPDATE, 3:25 p.m. PST, Jan. 31: U.S. President Donald Trump officially weighed in on the attack during a Thursday press conference.
“That I can tell you is horrible,” Trump said about the Smollett assault. “I’ve seen it. Last night. I think that’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse.” You can watch that part of the press conference below.
Trump thereafter launched into a rant about a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, calling the lack of a barrier there “the worst sin of all.”
UPDATE, 9:20 a.m., Feb. 1: The actor has officially broken his silence, saying, “Let me start by saying that I’m OK. My body is strong but my soul is stronger. … The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”
Smollett says he’s working with the Chicago Police Department and has been 100% factual and consistent in his accounting of events, though has “frustrations and deep concern” with “inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread.”
“I still believe justice will be served,” he says.
On the topic of his phone, Smollett says that while he refused to hand over his physical phone, he did not refuse to hand over phone records, according to TMZ, whose sources say police “informally asked” if the actor would surrender his phone, but the actor felt uncomfortable doing so.
TMZ claims Jussie Smollett has said he will provide phone records and is in the process of gathering them.
There’s also more information about the piece of rope used in the attack. TMZ has confirmed that Smollett kept the rope around his neck until cops arrived at his building 42 minutes after the attack to “preserve the evidence.”