Jussie Smollett at the 2017 BET Awards in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)
Chicago police on Tuesday said they were investigating an assault on Empire actor Jussie Smollett as a possible hate crime after two men yelled racial and homophobic slurs and wrapped a rope around his neck.
The 36-year-old African-American actor, who is gay, was reported to be in good condition after taking himself to a hospital after the incident early Tuesday, police said.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” Chicago police said in a statement.
Police did not identify Smollett by name, but gave his age and said he had a role on Empire. Representatives from 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment confirmed he was the victim.
“We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our Empire family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night,” Fox officials said in an emailed statement.
The two unknown assailants approached Smollett on the street at about 2 a.m. CST (3.00 a.m. ET) and began a “possible racially motivated” attack, yelling racial and homophobic slurs, police said.
The assailants hit him in the face, poured an “unknown chemical substance” on him and wrapped a rope around his neck before fleeing, police said.
Detectives were gathering video of the area and looking for witnesses.
A representative for Smollett did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Empire, a hip-hop musical drama series, premiered on Fox Television in 2015 and has been nominated for Grammy and Golden Globe awards. Smollett plays the character Jamal Lyon, a member of the family that is the focus of the show.
Smollett’s colleagues said they were shocked by the attack.
“The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live,” Empire co-creator Danny Strong said on Twitter.
Raquel Willis, an African-American transgender rights activist and executive editor of Out magazine, a lifestyle publication that centres on the LGBT community, condemned the attack on Twitter.
“The hate that fuels white supremacy is the same hate that fuels homophobia,” Willis said. “A conscientious society realizes it’s at war with both.” (Reuters)