Jussie Smollett spoke publicly for the first time since he was reportedly attacked Tuesday in Chicago. “Let me start by saying that I’m OK,” he said in a statement to Essence. “My body is strong but my soul is stronger.”
The “Empire” actor’s statement comes a day after his family condemned the reported attack as a “racial and homophobic hate crime.” Smollett added hat he is thankful for the support he has received in recent days. “The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words,” he told the magazine.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level. Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served,” the actor continued.
Chicago police are investigating the alleged assault against Smollett, who is black and openly gay, as a possible hate crime. According to police, Smollett was attacked about 2 a.m. Tuesday by “two unknown offenders” who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured an unknown “chemical substance” on Smollett and wrapped a rope around his neck.
Surveillance footage released by police Wednesday shows two “people of interest” that investigators are now asking the public for help in identifying. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted Wednesday that the video footage “does not capture an encounter."
Smollett told police the attackers were male and dressed in black. One attacker was described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1 and about 170 pounds, wearing a black mask to conceal his facial features. Police have not specified the race of the alleged attackers.
Police said Smollett is cooperating with the investigation. “He’s a victim right now, and we’ll treat him like a victim," Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson told Chicago’s ABC 7 in an interview Friday. “He’s been very cooperative and we have no reason, at this point, to think that he’s not being genuine with us.”
Smollett told detectives his attackers said “something to the effect of ‘This is MAGA country,’ ” an apparent reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, during the assault. Guglielmi said the initial police report did not reference those comments, but the actor recalled the information in a follow-up interview with detectives.
On Thursday, Trump referred to reports of the attack as “horrible.” “It doesn’t get worse,” he said in response to a White House reporter’s question.
The reported assault has drawn widespread attention and condemnation. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) sent a letter to the FBI director, writing that he was “disturbed” by the reports and was requesting a hate-crime investigation.
In their statement, the Smollett family drew attention to victims of hate crimes, which have increased in recent years, according to FBI data. “We want people to understand these targeted hate crimes are happening to our sisters, brothers and our gender non-conforming siblings, many who reside within the intersection of multiple identities, on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily basis all across our country,” the family said, a theme Smollett reiterated in his own statement.
"I am not and should not be looked upon as an isolated incident. We will talk soon and I will address all details of this horrific incident, but I need a moment to process,” Smollett added. “Most importantly, during times of trauma, grief and pain, there is still a responsibility to lead with love. It’s all I know. And that can’t be kicked out of me.”
Smollett, 35, comes from a family of advocates and actors. As a child, he and his five siblings co-starred in the short-lived ABC sitcom “On Our Own.” According to a 2016 New York Times profile, Smollett and his sister, actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell (“Friday Night Lights,” “Underground”), have been involved with causes such as HIV/AIDS prevention, the push to end apartheid and the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Thursday, Smollett-Bell shared her family’s statement alongside a photo of herself, Smollett and their siblings.
Smollett, whose role on “Empire” as Jamal Lyon is one of the few black, openly gay characters on network TV, has also done work with LGBTQ advocacy organizations including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign. Both organizations released statements in support of the actor following reports of his assault.
Smollett’s parents, Janet and Joel Sr., met in the San Francisco Bay area as they worked on civil rights causes. They associated with founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party, according to the Times. (Joel Sr. died in 2015.)
In the statement, the family said they “will continue to work for love, equity and justice until it reigns supreme in our nation and all over the world.”