"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett assaulted in possible hate crime, police say

/ CBS/AP

"Empire" actor injured in possible hate crime

Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a cast member of the television show "Empire" alleged he was attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him and physically attacked him.

Police haven't released the name of the 36-year-old cast member but say he reported being attacked while walking downtown around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Chicago Police said state law prohibits them from naming victims, but 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment confirmed the alleged victim is Jussie Smollett, who identifies as gay.

In a follow-up interview with police, Smollett said his attackers yelled "MAGA country" during the assault, Chicago police confirmed to CBS News. TMZ first reported details of the attack.

<> at The Beacon Theatre on May 16, 2016 in New York City. Astrid Stawiarz / Getty

"We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our EMPIRE family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night," 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement released to CBS News. "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."

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the victim reported two men approached him and began shouting the racial and homophobic slurs at him. He said they then struck him in the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on him before one of them wrapped a rope around his neck. They then fled, police say.

"Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime," Guglielmi said in a statement.

The man went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Guglielmi said the man is being treated at the hospital and is in good condition. The statement said the victim is cooperating fully with investigators.

Fellow members of the television industry, fans and advocates including the NAACP, GLAAD and the Anti-Violence project took to social media Tuesday to condemn the alleged assault.

NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement the group is "beyond troubled to hear about the recent racist and homophobic fueled attack on NAACP Image Award winner, acclaimed actor and activist Jussie Smollett." GLAAD called for the incident to be investigated thoroughly.

"Empire" co-creator Danny Strong said he was "deeply saddened and horrified" by the incident.

I’m deeply horrified and saddened by the racist and homophobic attacks against @JussieSmollett. He is a kind and profoundly talented soul whom I respect with all my heart. The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live…

— Danny Strong (@Dannystrong) January 29, 2019

"Whoever did this, 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," Strong tweeted.

FBI data released last year showed a 17 percent increase in hate crimes between 2016 and 2017. Hate crimes based on race, ethnicity or ancestry were the most common, making up about 60 percent of the total. The FBI's latest report also found 15.8 percent of hate crime offenses in 2017 stemmed from sexual orientation bias. Between 2016 and 2017, hate crimes motivated by racial bias rose about 18 percent and attacks on LGBTQ individuals rose 5 percent, according to the FBI.

The Anti-Violence project notes the severity of hate violence against LGBTQ people is increasing, with 46 percent of LGBTQ hate violence victims sustaining an injury in 2017 compared with 31 percent in 2016.

Chicago Police say they're continuing to seek evidence and video in the case to identify possible offenders. So far, police haven't developed information to be able to put out a suspect description, Guglielmi tweeted Tuesday afternoon. Anyone with information is being asked to submit their tips to http://www.cpdtip.com.

FBI finds increase in number of hate crimes reported

First published on January 29, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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