Police are investigating an alleged assault on Empire actor Jussie Smollett as a possible hate crime after two men allegedly yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapped a rope around his neck.
Chicago police said in the early hours of Tuesday morning (local time) the 35-year-old actor, who is gay, was approached by two men who yelled the slurs at him before assaulting him.
The assailants hit Smollett in the face, doused him with an “unknown chemical substance” and wrapped a rope around his neck before fleeing, police said.
Smollett was taken to hospital after the incident, where he has since been discharged. Chicago police said a dozen detectives, with the assistance of the FBI, were working on the case.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” police said.
Police are currently collecting footage from establishments near where the assault took place for evidence and asking the public for information on the masked suspects’ identities.
‘Deeply saddened and outraged by vicious attack’
Empire‘s US network, FOX, said in a statement they were “deeply saddened and outraged” to learn of the “vicious attack” on Smollett.
“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 network said.
“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 announced he was gay in 2015 in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, telling the talk show host that he hoped his coming out would help other gay people feel less alone.
The actor has played gay character Jamal Lyon on the music industry drama for five seasons.
Empire co-creator Danny Strong took to Twitter to express his sadness and dismay regarding Smollett’s attack.
“I’m deeply horrified and saddened by the racist and homophobic attacks against @JussieSmollett. He 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,
“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,” Strong wrote.
LGBTIQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said in a statement the “shocking attack” on LGBTIQ advocate Smollett is “not an isolated incident”.
“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,” HRC President Chad Griffin said.
“HRC continues to press for improved reporting, passage of state laws that protect LGBTQ individuals from hate crimes, and expanded education and training initiatives.”
— Zendaya (@Zendaya) January 29, 2019
OMG!! THIS is why the LGBTQ community continue to fight to be seen and PROTECTED against hate!
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) January 29, 2019
What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts. We are with you, Jussie. https://t.co/o8ilPu68CM
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 30, 2019
This is happening. NOW. In OUR country. https://t.co/C1Zxsx9Y9Q
— Jesse Tyler Ferguson (@jessetyler) January 29, 2019
(Photo via FOX)