Chicago — Jussie Smollett’s family said Thursday that the attack on the black and gay “Empire” actor in downtown Chicago this week was a “hate crime” and they pushed back against any suggestion that he was anything but honest with the police.
Smollett, who plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox television show, hasn’t spoken publicly about the early Tuesday attack, though his representative said Wednesday that Smollett was recovering at home. Smollett’s family issued a statement through a spokesman Thursday saying they believe he was the victim of an unprovoked “racial and homophobic hate crime” and that he has been forthright with the police, who are still searching for surveillance video of the attack.
"Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice," the family said.
Detectives have recovered more surveillance footage of Smollett walking home from a Subway restaurant that morning, including video of him arriving at his apartment building with a rope around his neck, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielma.
Smollett told police that two masked men jumped him on his walk home at around 2 a.m. Tuesday. He said they punched him, subjected him to racist and homophobic insults, threw an "unknown chemical substance" on him and put a thin
Detectives, who are investigating the case as a possible hate crime, have watched hundreds of hours of footage from private and public surveillance cameras, but gaps remain and they still haven’t seen video of the attack or men who match Smollett’s description of his assailants, Guglielmi said.
The area is home to many high-end hotels and restaurants and has hundreds of cameras, so there are still
"It’s like putting together a puzzle," he said.
Guglielmi said Smollett and his manager told detectives they were talking on the phone at the time of the attack, but that the 36-year-old actor declined to turn over his phone records to the detectives, who routinely ask for such information during criminal investigations.
Police are hoping to identify and talk to two people who were walking in the area at the time of the attack and whose grainy image the department released. Guglielmi stressed that the people are not considered suspects and that police want to question them because they were in the vicinity and might have useful information.
Reports of the attack drew a flood of outrage and support for Smollett on social media. Some of the outrage stemmed from Smollett’s account to detectives that his attackers yelled that he was in "MAGA country," an apparent reference to the Trump campaign’s "Make America Great Again" slogan.
President Donald Trump, expressed sympathy for Smollett on Thursday.
"That I can tell you is horrible. It doesn’t get worse,"
The FBI is investigating a threatening letter targeting Smollett that was sent last week to the Fox studio in Chicago where "Empire" is filmed, Guglielmi said. The FBI has declined to comment on the investigation.
In addition to his acting career, Smollett has a music career and is a noted activist, particularly on LBGTQ issues. Smollett’s representative said his concert scheduled for Saturday in Los Angeles will go on as planned.
Now in its fifth season, the hourlong drama "Empire" follows an African-American family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry. Smollett’s character is the middle son of Empire Entertainment founder Lucious Lyon and Cookie Lyon, played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively.
Chicago has one of the nation’s most sophisticated and extensive video surveillance systems, including thousands of cameras on street poles, skyscrapers, buses and in train tunnels.