Empire Star Jussie Smollett Hospitalized as Police Investigate Apparent Hate Crime
"Two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him," police say
Empire star Jussie Smollett was transported to the hospital after he was the victim of an apparent hate crime Tuesday around 2 a.m. in Chicago.
TMZ first reported the news. The Chicago Police Department confirmed in a statement that a member of the hit Fox show was involved in a “racially-charged assault and battery,” though they did not name Smollett.
The statement continues: “A 36 year old man was walking … when two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him. The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim. At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck. The offenders fled the scene.”
The statement adds that the victim transported himself to Northwestern Hospital and is in “good condition.”
A Chicago P.D. spokesperson tells PEOPLE that no arrests have been made and there are no solid suspects at this time. The officer says the attackers were wearing masks but will not confirm what they said, only that it was racially charged and homophobic. The victim thinks the liquid thrown on him was bleach, but detectives have yet to confirm that. He was by himself at the time of the attack.
Smollett’s reps did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement: “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 or any despicable act of violence and hatred — and especially against one of our own.”
TMZ reports that his attackers allegedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” PEOPLE has not been able to independently confirm this.
The Blast obtained a recording of the dispatch call concerning the incident, in which the dispatcher says friends reported that Smollett “was assaulted when he walked out of his apartment.”
His next-door neighbor, Steven Down, says he was upset to hear what happened to Smollett. “He’s always been a very friendly, outgoing, warm and personable neighbor,” he tells PEOPLE. “I was shocked when I read the news. I did send my message to him personally but I haven’t heard from him or spoken with him. My thoughts are with him.”
Smollett, 35, first spoke publicly about being gay on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2015, though he said he never considered himself to be in the closet.
“There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he said, adding that deciding not to talk about his personal life is not an attempt to “hide or deny who God made me. There is, without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in,” he reiterated, “and I just wanted to make that clear.”
In a statement about the attack to The Hollywood Reporter, GLAAD said it reached out to Fox and Smollett’s team to offer assistance.
“Jussie is a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world,” the statement read.
And Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, further spoke to his contributions to the gay community.
“It’s really awful. It’s shocking, it is deeply saddening. But unfortunately it is of a piece with trends we see in the country right now,’ Byard said. “My main concern at this moment is of course that Jussie have all the support to make a full recovery but that also LGBTQ youth across the country, particularly black LGBTQ youth know, that there is a community out there ready to support and protect them. Jussie is a member of our GLSEN family and he’s such an important figure for LGBTQ youth everywhere. I know him as a beacon for young people. The larger context here is that racism and homophobia are deep legacies that our society has to wrestle with and we have far to go.”
“The really sad thing is that we had begun, at least in terms of the most overt homophobic victimization, to make progress. What we see now is we have to fight harder and harder,” Byard added. “The worst of it has been emboldened. The idea that such an overtly racist and homophobic attack and the violence of referring back to our country’s history of lynching is so violently horrifying, symbolically and physically. It’s very upsetting and depressing for him and for everyone watching. The youth of America are watching and our response is critical. It is undeniable that hate has been emboldened since the fall of 2016. A window has been opened that we must slam shut once again. There is such an important action for every responsible adult to take right now. Every adult in this country can strike a blow against hate by talking with the young people in their lives and making clear that this kind of racist and homophobic violence is completely unacceptable and if they are working with youth who may take this particularly personally, if they are black, if they are students of color, if they are LGBTQ, those young people need to know right now that that adults love them, care for them, understand what they are facing and will be there for them now and into the future.”