During an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts, ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett gets emotional while talking about his reported attackers in Chicago.
Jussie Smollett got emotional about his Jan. 29 assault Thursday on “Good Morning America,” telling anchor Robin Roberts he is upset, not just by the people who physically harmed him, but also by what he sees as a willful ignorance of the truth.
“It’s the attackers, but it’s also the attacks,” said Smollett, who’s black and openly gay. “It’s not that you don’t believe this is the truth; you don’t even want to see this is the truth.”
He also said he believes that he would have been taken more seriously if his attackers were Muslim or minorities.
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would’ve supported me a lot more, and that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now,” he said.
As for the motivation behind his attack, Smollett guessed it could be attributed to his opposition of President Donald Trump, saying, “I can only go off of their words.”
Smollett told Roberts he gets “threatened all the time” through social media, acknowledging he is “sometimes maybe too outspoken, but it’s who I am.”
Smollett also provided more details on the threatening letter he received at Fox’s Chicago studio, which is being investigated by the FBI.
He said he believes the letter is linked to his assault “because on the letter, it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it with the words that said ‘Smollett, Jussie you will die,’ ” he said, adding that the return address was simply listed as “MAGA.”
The 36-year-old also recounted details of the attack, which the Chicago Police Department is investigating as a “possible” hate crime, explaining he was on a food run when he heard someone trying to get his attention.
“I heard ‘Empire,’ and I don’t answer to ‘Empire.’ My name ain’t ‘Empire,’ and I didn’t answer,” he said. “I kept walking, and then I heard “(Homophobic slur) ‘Empire’ (N-word).’ So, I turned around and I said, ‘(What) the (expletive) did you just say to me?’
“And I see the attacker, masked and he said, ‘This MAGA country, (N-word).’ Punches me right in the face,” Smollett continued. “So I punched his (expletive) back. And then we started tussling and it was very icy.
“We ended up tussling by the stairs, fighting, fighting, fighting,” Smollett added. “There was a second person involved who was kicking me in my back, and then it just stopped. And they ran off.”
Though Smollett estimates the attack could’ve lasted maybe 30 seconds, he said he was unsure of how long it actually went on.
“I noticed the rope around my neck, and I started screaming,” he told Roberts. “I said, ‘There’s a (expletive) rope about my neck.’ “
Due to the nature of the attack, Smollett says he does not have much in the way of descriptions of his assailants.
“I can’t tell you what color their eyes were, and I did not see anything except the second person I saw running away,” he said. “And the first person, I saw his stature. I gave the description as best as I could.
“You have to understand also that it’s Chicago, in winter,” he said. “People can wear ski masks and nobody’s going to question that.”
The prospect of his attackers not being brought to justice brought Smollett to tears.
“I was talking to a friend and I said, ‘I just want them to find them.’ And she said, ‘Sweetie, they’re not going to find them,’ ” he said. “That just made me so angry because (that means) I’m just gonna be left here with this?“
“They get to go free and go about their life and possibly attack someone else, and I’m here, left with the aftermath of this bull?” Smollett said. “That not cool to me, that’s not OK.
“So, I understand how difficult it will be to find them,” he added, “but we gotta. I still want to believe, with everything that has happened, that there’s something called justice.”
Thursday afternoon, Chicago Police’s Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted investigators had identified people of interest. They are the two males seen in surveillance images released by authorities last month, Guglielmi informed The Associated Press.
“The people of interest are alleged to be in the area where a crime was reported,” his second tweet read. “They are not considered suspects at this time as they are currently being questioned by detectives. We remain in communication with the alleged victim.”
The story Smollett told Roberts matches the account in his police report, filed in the early hours of Jan. 29. Later that day, Guglielmi told USA TODAY that Smollett was approached in the early hours of the morning by two people who “gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” adding that they punched him in the face, poured a chemical on him and wrapped a rope around his neck.
When Smollett made his initial public statement about the attack on Feb. 1, he expressed concern with how his case was being reported in the media.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” he said. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”
On Tuesday, Chicago Police Sgt. Rocco Alioto told USA TODAY that Smollett’s submitted phone records from the night of the incident “do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation as they were limited and heavily redacted.”
During his “GMA” interview, Smollett addressed his initial refusal to give his phone to authorities, which he said was due to concern for his privacy.
“Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers,” he explained, noting his phone contains “my partner’s number, my (family members numbers), my castmates’ numbers, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos.”
Smollett also said the experience has permanently altered him, for better or worse.
He told Roberts, “I will never be the man this did not happen to. I am forever changed, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us – good and bad.”
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Contributing: Cydney Henderson, The Associated Press
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