Howard is another member of the Empire family to speak out about Smollett since his attack on Tuesday
The 49-year-old Oscar nominee appeared on Wednesday’s Good Morning America, where he spoke out for the first time about what happened to Smollett, who portrays his son on the series. His comments come one day after Smollett was hospitalized and is now recovering from injuries related to the apparent hate crime.
“I heard he’s getting better. You know, he’s angry,” Howard said. “But I know Jussie. Jussie’s anger will dissipate and he will forgive these people for what they did. But he won’t, and we cannot, forget their actions. They have to be forgiven because it was done out of ignorance.”
“Jussie’s the one that starts singing when everybody’s in a bad mood,” Howard continued. “He’s the one that cheers everybody up. He’s the one that does all the Instagrams if he catches you sleeping. Today, no one was caught sleeping. No one even took time to close their eyes and nap. They were all in shock that our family — you know, the Fox family, the Empire family, the Lyon family — were attacked by a bunch of hyenas today.”
At around 2 a.m. local time in Chicago on Tuesday, the Empire star went to the hospital after he was the victim of an apparent hate crime.
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.
“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 statement read. “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.”
A Chicago P.D. spokesperson told PEOPLE that no arrests have been made and there are no solid suspects at this time. The officer said the attackers were wearing masks but would not confirm what they said, only that it was racially charged and homophobic. The victim thought 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.
Smollett has reportedly been the target of threats before. Police confirmed to ABC News that a letter containing threatening language, laced with a powdery substance believed to be Tylenol, was sent to Smollett at the Fox studio in Chicago last week.
The FBI is now said to be investigating, ABC News reported.
That information was particularly disturbing to Howard and his Empire costars.
He told GMA that when the Empire cast first heard the news about Smollett, their “jaws dropped to the ground.” But the reports about the letters scared them even more. “When we learned that there had been letters that had been sent to Fox as threats about the potential about this, then we became much more frightened,” Howard said.
Howard is the third member of the Empire family to speak out about Smollett. As news broke about his attack, the Fox show’s creator Lee Daniels shared his thoughts in a video on Instagram.
“It’s taken me a minute to come to social media about this because, Jussie, you are my son,” the 59-year-old director said. “You didn’t deserve — nor does anybody deserve — to have a noose put around your neck, to have bleach thrown on you, to be called, ‘Die, f—t n—r’ or whatever they said to you. You are better than that. We are better than that. America is better than that.”
“It starts at home … We have to love each other regardless of what sexual orientation we are because it shows that we are … [a] united front and no racist f—k can come in and do the things they did to you,” he added. “Hold your head up, Jussie. I’m with you, I’ll be there in a minute. It’s just another f—in’ day in America.”
Serayah McNeila (who plays singer Tiana Brown on Empire) also addressed the incident on social media.
“Your light will continue to shine bright, which is the part these disgusting people fail to realize,” the actress, 23, captioned a photo of herself and Smollett on Instagram. “I hope you make a speedy recovery and continue to educate, motivate, and inspire millions. Love you big bro.”
Other stars like John Legend, Viola Davis, Zendaya and Shonda Rhimes have also shown their support.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement on Tuesday: “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.”
Smollett 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 was 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.