"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has reported being assaulted in Chicago on Tuesday by two men hurling racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapping a rope around his neck in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime, officials said.
Smollett, 36, had just landed in town from New York and was out getting a bite to eat at about 2 a.m. CT (3 a.m. ET) on East North Lower Water Street, in the upscale neighborhood of Streeterville, is when two men attacked him, the actor told police.
Two "unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him," according to a statement from the Chicago Police Department. "The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim."
The chemical is believed to be bleach, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
"At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim's neck," the statement continued. "The offenders fled the scene."
In a recording obtained by emergency-services feed aggregator Broadcastify, a dispatcher repeated information she gleaned from Smollett's friend who called in the attack.
"He's supposed to be well-known, requesting a report and said a noose was placed over the friend's neck," the dispatcher relayed to first responders.
Smollett, who is black and gay, took himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for treatment. The extent of his injuries was not immediately known.
"Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. "Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline. The victim is fully cooperating."
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Late Tuesday Guglielmi said on Twitter that investigators have canvassed an expanded area and were continuing to search for video evidence. "Thus far, no video of the alleged assailants or a vehicle has been discovered but we are continuing to broaden our search," he said.
In a subsequent statement he added that police have already reviewed a lot of video but that they are continuing to search for imagery that would help them identify suspects.
"The Streeterville neighborhood where the alleged attack occurred has a very high density of city and private surveillance cameras," Guglielmi said. "As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, detectives canvassed and reviewed hundreds of hours of video and have now expanded the search area along the Chicago riverfront hoping to find video to be able to release a public description of the offenders. Unfortunately, thus far we have not found any helpful information on a suspect or a suspect's vehicle to be able to share."
Twentieth Century Fox Television issued a statement in support of the actor.
“We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our EMPIRE family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night," according to a company statement.
"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 of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own.”
Friends and co-workers of Smollett's in addition to gay-rights advocates also spoke out.
"DEAR GOD! Prayers and justice for Jussie Smollett," tweeted actress Kerry Washington.
Actor, writer and "Empire" producer Danny Strong said in a tweet addressed to Smollett's attackers, "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."
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said in a statement: "GLAAD reached out to FOX and Jussie’s team today to offer assistance as well as support for him. Jussie is a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world."
NAACP President Derrick Johnson said that hate crimes are on the rise.
"The recent racist and homophobic attack on acclaimed actor and activist Jussie Smollett is troubling," he said in a statement," Johnson said in a statement. "We pray for a full physical and mental recovery Jussie Smollett and many unnamed victims of this forum of hate based terrorism.”
On "Empire," Smollett plays Jamal Lyon, the estranged son of his music-industry titan father played by Terrence Howard. Jamal is a gay singer-songwriter and his sexual orientation and career independence has him at odds with the family patriarch.
Smollett came out as gay in a backstage interview with Ellen DeGeneres in 2015, after "Empire" first aired on Fox.
Smollett appeared on MSNBC's "PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton" on Sunday to discuss the future of historically black colleges and universities. The actor has been active in fundraising efforts to save Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina.