Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Wednesday asking for a hate crimes investigation into the attack on actor Jussie Smollett.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, was assaulted in Chicago early Tuesday in what police have called a “possible racially charged assault and battery.”
“This is a hate crime plain and simple and I will not stand by while evil acts are inflicted on any citizen, especially not in my hometown,” Rush said in the letter.
Rush said he was “disturbed” by reports that the two attackers allegedly wrapped a noose around Smollett’s neck, an act Rush described as an “attempted lynching” that “harkens back to some of the darkest days in our history.”
Last year, Rush introduced legislation that would make lynching a federal crime. The measure was co-sponsored by nearly three-dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus. At the time, Rush said the legislation was necessary given the resurgence of white nationalism as evidenced by recent events such as the 2017 rally in Charlottesville.
“While many may argue that lynching has been relegated to history, you only need to look at the events in Charlottesville last year to be reminded that the racist and hateful sentiments that spurred these abhorrent crimes are still prevalent in today’s American society,” he said at the time.
On Wednesday, Rush renewed his call for Congress to take up his legislation, which he said would “ensure perpetrators receive an enhanced sentence under hate crimes statutes.”
Smollett, 35, was walking on a Chicago street at about 2 a.m. local time Tuesday “when two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” the Chicago Police Department said in a statement.
“The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim,” the statement said. “At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck.”
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.
The FBI has not responded to a request for comment.
Travis M. Andrews and Bethonie Butler contributed to this report.