Assault on actor Jussie Smollett probed as possible hate crime

The attackers reportedly placed a noose around the black actor's neck and yelled homophobic slurs.

    Cast member Jussie Smollett attends a screening of the television series ''Empire'' in Los Angeles [File: Phil McCarten/Reuters]
    Cast member Jussie Smollett attends a screening of the television series ''Empire'' in Los Angeles [File: Phil McCarten/Reuters]

    Two men allegedly attacked African American actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago, Illinois, placing a noose around his neck and yelling homophobic and racist slurs.

    Smollett, 36, was attacked at around 2am local time (08:00 GMT) on Tuesday, according to reports. Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

    The attackers allegedly beat Smollett, poured a chemical substance on him and placing the rope around his neck as if they were going to hang him, according to the police.

    "As of 10pm Tuesday, detectives canvassed and reviewed hundreds of hours of video and have now expanded the search area along the Chicago riverfront hoping to find the video to be able to release a public description of the offenders," police said in a statement.

    "Unfortunately, thus far we have not found any helpful information on a suspect or a suspect's vehicle to be able to share."

    "Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime," Chicago police added.

    As of Wednesday afternoon, police had not yet retrieved video footage of the incident but was widening its search area to find clues.

    Smollett, who is gay, stars on the Fox show Empire as character Jamal Lyon, a singer-songwriter who is also gay.

    The actor said that his attackers screamed "MAGA country" as they got away, a reference to US President Donald Trump's slogan "make American great again".

    'Terror of racism and homophobia' 

    Production of Empire was temporarily suspended by 21st Century Fox on Wednesday. The suspension was partially due to harsh weather in Chicago.

    Danny Strong, cocreator of Empire, denounced the "racist and homophobic" attack on Twitter, describing Smollett as "a kind and profoundly talented soul".

    "The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live," Strong wrote.

    Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, who recently announced her presidential bid, spoke about the attack on the Senate floor. "It's outrageous," she said. "I know Jussie, he is one of the kindest, most gentle people I have ever met. It's awful."

    Senator Cory Booker, writing on Twitter, argued that the attack highlighted the need to pass a bill designed to classify lynching as a federal hate crime. 

    The NAACP civil rights group decried the attack in a statement. "The rise in hate crimes is directly linked to President Donald J Trump's racist and xenophobic rhetoric," the group wrote.

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    "It is dangerous for any society to allow a tone of divisiveness and hatred to dominate the political discourse.

    In the wake of Trump election to president in November 2016, hate crimes and bias incidents skyrocketed, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    The (FBI) recorded a 17-percent increase in hate crimes in 2017, according to a report released late last year.

    According to the Anti-Defamation League watchdog, 2018 saw 50 murders carried by far-rightists, including white nationalists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies