Chicago police are investigating a possible hate crime that left actor Jussie Smollett hospitalized late Tuesday night.
At around 2 a.m., police say that Smollett was approached by two people who proceeded to assault the actor after subjecting him to racist and homophobic slurs. His assailants are alleged to have battered his face before pouring what has been described as an unknown chemical substance on him. “At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck,” the police report reads.
Smollett — a black, gay, and Jewish actor who got his start in Hollywood as a child actor in movies such as The Mighty Ducks — is best known for his portrayal of Jamal Lyon on Empire, a breakthrough role in terms of the representation of queer people of color on television.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime. Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses, and establish an investigative timeline,” said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi in a statement.
TMZ reports that both attackers were white men wearing ski masks, that the chemical was bleach, and that the men yelled “This is MAGA country” at Smollett as they fled. CPD told ThinkProgress that the “MAGA country” claims were not reported to police so they “can’t confirm if they occurred.”
ABC 7 reporter Rob Elgas tweeted that Chicago police “did a follow-up, supplemental interview with…Smollett, where he did in fact tell police his attackers yelled ‘MAGA country.’” Elgas also reports that “when Smollett contacted police at 2:42AM, he was still wearing the rope around his neck. The alleged encounter occurred at 2AM. Police have the rope and it will be analyzed,” according to a Chicago Police Department spokesperson.
After the assault, Smollett got himself to Northwestern General Hospital, where he was treated and subsequently discharged. TMZ also pointed to a report by ThatGrapeJuice.Net, which described a letter that was addressed to Smollett and sent to Fox Studios in Chicago with ransom-note-style magazine cut-out letters spelling out “You will die black fag.” The letter was addressed to Smollett, had “MAGA” printed in red marker where the return address would be, and was reportedly sent to Fox eight days ago. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will be investigating the source of the letter, according to ABC News.
Fox representatives identified Smollett as the victim and released a statement Tuesday afternoon:
“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 has been on Empire since its premiere in 2015. In March 2017, Smollett released a music video for his song “F.U.W. (Fucked Up World)” to protest the “race-baiting, bigotry and xenophobia of the current administration,” as his press release put it. In the black and white video, which Smollett also directed, a mask of President Donald Trump’s face is crushed by a man in a wheelchair. In an interview with the Associated Press, Smollett described the mask as “a representation of this false idea of patriotism [and] this idea of white male privilege.”
“It’s so much bigger than [Trump],” Smollett said. “It’s what he represents, and it’s because of that representation, that’s why he’s the president of the United States currently.”
The apparent assault of Smollett coincides with a rise in hate crimes the nation over. Hate crimes surged in the first year of Trump’s presidency and increased 17 percent from 2016 to 2017, the third consecutive year in which that number grew. Nearly three in five of the more than 7,100 hate crimes committed in 2017 were motivated by racism. The F.B.I. found that black people accounted for nearly half of hate crime victims in 2017.
But reporting of hate crimes is voluntary, and so hate crimes remain significantly underreported. As the New York Times noted last year, only 12.6 percent of the agencies in the F.B.I. report indicated that hate crimes had occurred in their jurisdictions in 2017, and some massive agencies — Miami, Las Vegas — reported none at all. “Data shows that hate crime victims often do not trust that reporting will help them.”