Police Say 'Empire' Actor Jussie Smollett Attacked In Possible Hate Crime

Jan 29, 2019
Originally published on January 29, 2019 9:17 pm

Updated at 6:02 p.m. ET

Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of the TV show Empire, reportedly was brutally attacked early Tuesday in what Chicago police are investigating as a possible hate crime. The 36-year-old actor took himself to the hospital directly after what police called a "possible racially-charged assault and battery"; authorities say he is in good condition.

Police received a report that Smollett, who is black and gay, was walking in the downtown Chicago neighborhood of Streeterville around 2 a.m. local time "when two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him," the city's police department told NPR. "The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim."

The alleged assault did not end there.

"At some point during the incident," police added, "one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim's neck."

Authorities say the two attackers fled on foot. Chicago police say they are gathering video, identifying potential witnesses and trying to establish a timeline of events.

Police put out a call for anyone who had been in the area at the time to submit information to their tip line.

Smollett's mother is African-American and his father is Jewish. In a 2016 interview, he calls his family "blu-ish — black and Jewish."

On Fox's Empire, Smollett plays Jamal Lyon, a young gay man trying to win his music mogul father's approval.

Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement to NPR that it was "deeply saddened and outraged" at the news. "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."

In an emotional video, Empire co-creator Lee Daniels addressed Smollett, whom he calls "my son."

"You didn't deserve, nor anyone deserves, to have a noose put around your neck," he says. "You are better than that. We are better than that. America is better than that. ... Hold your head up, Jussie. I'm with you, I'll be there in a minute. It's just another f****** day in America."

Co-creator Danny Strong called Smollett "a kind and profoundly talented soul whom I respect with all my heart."

In a statement to NPR, GLAAD Communications Director Mathew Lasky said Smollett is "a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Chicago, the actor Jussie Smollett was assaulted in the early hours of this morning. Chicago police have confirmed that they are treating the attack as a possible hate crime. Smollett is gay and multiracial. He stars in the hit Fox TV drama "Empire." It's about a family that owns a music company, and Smollett plays Jamal, a gay character struggling to win his father's approval. Here he is singing on the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EMPIRE")

JUSSIE SMOLLETT: (As Jamal Lyon, singing) So what? I'm gay. It don't matter. God ain't made you no better than me. When I pray...

SHAPIRO: For more on this attack, NPR's Colin Dwyer joins us now. Hi, Colin.

COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us so far about this assault? And what do we know happened?

DWYER: So to start off, I must preface this with the fact that details remain a little bit sketchy at the moment, but we do know some facts from the Chicago Police Department. They say that he was walking down by the waterfront section of downtown Chicago when two individuals assailed him. They started hurling racial epithets at him, started hurling homophobic slurs at him as well. And they gained his attention through that, and they started beating him up.

And at this point, there are some actually disturbing details in the police report. They say that he had an unknown chemical substance poured on him during the course of this thing. And then before that attack was done, the two individuals apparently wrapped a rope around his neck, according to police. Those individuals actually fled on foot. And now the police are trying to find out who they are.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned homophobic and racial slurs. Police are investigating this as a hate crime. Tell us more about that.

DWYER: That's correct. So they obviously see this as a potential situation in which this was either racially motivated or motivated through homophobia or perhaps both it seems. So police are now calling out to the country as a whole asking for tips on who these two people might be. One bright side to this is that it does seem that Smollett is feeling OK. He's in good condition, according to the police. He actually brought himself over to the hospital shortly after this. And he seems to be in good condition.

SHAPIRO: He brought himself to the hospital. He was not taken there by ambulance or anything.

DWYER: That's correct.

SHAPIRO: He's a very popular figure in Hollywood. I've seen a huge response on social media today. Tell us more about what the reaction has been.

DWYER: That's right. So almost immediately the moment that this news broke, we saw an outpouring from his colleagues and co-workers and friends across the industry. That includes Kerry Washington, Viola Davis. The co-creator of the show, Danny Strong, actually came out with some really strong words. He said 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 onto the world for decades to come.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Colin Dwyer covering this assault on the actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago. We're going to continue following this story as we get more details. Colin, thanks a lot.

DWYER: Thank you so much, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSTAM SONG, "GWAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.