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Arts & Life

Chicago Police Look For Suspects In Assault On 'Empire' Actor

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - Chicago police are investigating a possible hate crime against a cast member of the TV show "Empire." The actor is Jussie Smollett, who's 36. The alleged attack sent Smollett to the hospital, and police are now looking for suspects. From Chicago, WBEZ's Maria Ines Zamudio reports.

MARIA INES ZAMUDIO, BYLINE: Jussie Smollett plays an openly gay character on the Fox network show "Empire." In real life, he's also a gay activist. Smollett told police he was attacked while walking near the river in downtown Chicago around 2 am yesterday. The 36-year-old actor said two men approached him and started yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Then they started hitting Smollett before pouring an unknown substance on him. But the attack didn't end there. One of men reportedly wrapped a rope around the black actor's neck. Chicago police officer Jessica Rocco says detectives are trying to identify both the attackers and witnesses.

JESSICA ROCCO: Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime. Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline.

ZAMUDIO: Police say the actor told them his attackers yelled, this is MAGA country, in apparent reference to President Trump's campaign slogan Make America Great Again. Smollett was able to eventually get to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he was treated and released. Rich Ferraro is with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He says attacks like this one are also common.

RICH FERRARO: Sadly what happened to Jussie is not unique in today's America, and there are countless LGBTQ people and people of color, as well as people who belong to both of those communities, who are faced with hate-motivated violence on a near daily basis.

ZAMUDIO: Ferraro says 2017 was the deadliest year on record for the LGBTQ community, and he wants to raise awareness.

FERRARO: It's up to our law enforcement and our elected officials to create a culture and to create cities where you can be out and proud and not have to worry and fear for violence to be subjected against you.

ZAMUDIO: Rich Ferraro and Jussie Smollett have worked together in the past to advocate for the LGBTQ community. He says the actor will continue to fight against homophobia and won't let this attack affect his activism. For NPR News, I'm Maria Ines Zamudio in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD ENOUGH")

JUSSIE SMOLLETT: (Singing) I just want you to look at me and see that I can be good enough. I just want you to look at me.

INSKEEP: The chief communications officer for the Chicago Police tweeted an update last night saying police have not found video of the attackers, but they're still looking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.