Image: Jussie Smollett Instagram
Empire star and LGBT advocate Jussie Smollett was the victim of a horrifying attack in the early hours of Tuesday morning in Chicago. Police and the FBI are now investigating it as a potential hate crime. Investigators are working through CCTV footage in the area and have so far found video of two potential persons of interest wanted for questioning.
Image: Photo released by Chicago Police showing two "persons of interest" in Jussie Smollett attack on Tuesday
35 year old Smollett, who came out on Ellen in 2015 and plays gay character Jamal on Empire, was walking back to his apartment in Chicago, where Empire films. Around 2am he was approached by two men wearing ski masks near a Subway shop in the Streeterville area.
“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. They began to “batter” Smollett's face, “poured an unknown chemical substance” on him, which has previously been reported as bleach, “wrapped a rope” around his neck and then fled.
Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said that when police arrived at 2.42am the rope was still around Smollett’s neck.
"It was being worn like a neck tie but shaped like a noose," Guglielmi said.
TMZ is reporting that a neighbour has told police she saw two men loitering outside the apartment building at around 12.30am on the morning of the attack. She reportedly said that one man had a rope protruding from his clothing. Police have not confirmed this.
Smollett was treated for a broken rib and cuts and bruises at Northwestern Memorial Hospital before being released on Tuesday. Police say he is in “good condition” after the ordeal.
Image: Jussie Smollett in hospital on Tuesday Facetiming with Empire co-creator Lee Daniels
Police have not confirmed reports that the attackers yelled “This is MAGA country.”
This appears to be a premeditated attack as on January 22, Fox’s Chicago studio reportedly received a letter addressed to Smollett with cut out words spelling "You will die black f*g."
Fox, who make the show, released a statement condemning the attack. Cast members, the show's co-creators, Hollywood peers and politicians have taken to social media to voice their support for Smollett and denounce the attack.
“This shocking attack on our friend and tremendous advocate Jussie Smollett is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
“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 alone, at least 26 transgender people, mostly transgender women of color, were brutally murdered. This is an unacceptable crisis, and HRC continues to press for improved reporting, passage of state laws that protect LGBTQ individuals from hate crimes, and expanded education and training initiatives.”