Jussie Smollett, a black, openly gay actor best known for his work in Fox’s “Empire,” was assaulted in Chicago by two people carrying a noose and an unidentified “chemical substance” in what police are calling a “possible racially-charged assault and battery.”
Smollett, 35, was walking in the 300 block of East North Lower Water Street about 2 a.m. local time on Tuesday “when two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” the Chicago Police Department said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim.”
The police could not confirm the gender of the offenders or identify the chemical substance.
“At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victims neck,” the statement said.
Eventually the offenders fled, and Smollett transported himself to Northwestern Hospital “and is in good condition.”
TMZ reported that Smollett was discharged Tuesday morning. The hospital could not confirm this detail but told The Post that Smollett is not currently a patient.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” police said.
Fox released a statement Tuesday in support of the actor. “We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our EMPIRE family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night. We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate – and especially against one of our own.”
Smollett’s publicist did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
Smollett began his career as a child actor with his siblings, who include actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell. He is best known for playing Jamal Lyon on “Empire.” The character is a gay R&B musician who has faced homophobic criticism from his mogul father.
The character struggled with his sexuality before coming out in a buzzed-about Season 1 episode. The plot development led to widespread speculation about Smollett’s sexuality. A month later, Smollett appeared on the TV show “Ellen,” where he confirmed he is gay.
“It was really important to me to make sure that it got across that there is no closet, there’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he told TV host Ellen DeGeneres. “I don’t have a closet. But I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home. So that’s why I choose not to talk about my personal life. But there is, without a doubt, no closet I’ve ever been in. And I just wanted to make that clear.”
He more directly addressed his sexuality in a 2016 interview with Out magazine. Though Smollett said he was open to falling in love with anyone, he said he identifies as a gay man.
“I am a gay man. I am a gay man. I am a gay man. I don’t know how many times I have to say that,” he told the magazine.
As news of his attack spread Tuesday, Smollett received statements of support from LGBTQ advocacy organizations he has worked with over the years.
“Jussie is a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world,” GLAAD said in a statement.
“This shocking attack on our friend and tremendous advocate Jussie Smollett is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “There is an alarming epidemic of hate violence in our country that disproportionately targets Black people, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities – and particularly those living at the intersections of multiple identities.”
Last year, the FBI said there was a 17 percent increase in hate crimes in 2017 – the third consecutive year such crimes increased. Of the 7,175 hate crimes reported by United States law enforcement agencies, 2,013 incidents targeted black Americans. 1,130 hate crimes involved people who were targeted based on their sexual orientation.
Messages of support from fans and fellow celebrities for Smollett poured out on Twitter as the news unfolded Tuesday.
“Empire” co-star Vivica A. Fox tweeted in all caps: “IM SO ANGRY AND HURT ABOUT THIS! THIS MUST STOP!! SPREAD LOVE NOT HATE! PRAYERS UP TO U NEPHEW!”
Lee Daniels, who co-created “Empire” with Danny Strong, posted a heartfelt and expletive-laden video on Instagram.
“It’s taken me a minute to come to social media about this, because Jussie, you are my son,” Daniels said. “You didn’t deserve, nor anybody deserves, to have a noose put around your neck … You are better than that. We are better than that. America is better than that. It starts at home. It starts at home, yo. We have to love each other regardless of what sexual orientation we are. Because it shows we are united on a united front.”
Strong, meanwhile, wrote that he is “deeply horrified and saddened by the racist and homophobic attacks.”
Smollett “is a kind and profoundly talented soul whom I respect with all my heart. The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live,” Strong tweeted. “Whoever did this, do not forget that you are nothing but hate filled cowards while Jussie’s talent and activism will continue to shine a bright light on to the world for decades to come.”
“We ALL have a responsibility to rise up against the ignorance and hate out there. If you know who did this … REPORT THEM TO THE POLICE,” tweeted “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes.
“Grey’s Anatomy” actress Caterina Scorsone sent “love and healing” to the actor: “We must tirelessly teach our children about the dignity and sacredness of each and every human being so that this kind of insanity ends. Hate destroys us from within. Teach them to love. It’s on us.”