This malicious attack serves as a reminder of how dangerous it still is for those who are black and LGBT to live openly in American society. Celebrity or not.
Early Tuesday morning, actor Jussie Smollett was approached in Chicago by two people in ski masks who yelled racist, homophobic slurs at him, beat him, poured an unknown chemical (rumored to be bleach) over him, and even fastened a noose around his neck before fleeing the area. Smollett fought back, and once his assailants left he was able to make it to Northwestern Hospital, where he fortunately remains “in good condition” according to a police statement.
What happened to Smollett is heartbreaking and undoubtedly traumatizing due to the violent and derogatory nature of the assault. Despite not knowing the identities of the perpetrators, one thing we can be certain of is their motive.
Even though it is unspoken protocol to classify aggressive altercations with limited information as “possible” hate crimes, it becomes pretty clear that this attack is just one textbook hate crime among a disturbing pattern of thousands. Regardless of his fame, the attackers exclusively singled Smollett out due to his sexuality and race, evidenced by the slurs they used.
Plus, Smollett recently confirmed that his attackers used the phrase “this is MAGA country,” going against adamant police statements that claimed there was no proof the words were said. This would mean that Smollett’s assailants were employing violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims (aka pushing Trump’s agenda)– which is literally the definition of terrorism, as several on Twitter pointed out.
Senator Cory Booker went even farther to emphasize the gravity of what happened, calling on Congress to finally make definitive additions to what constitutes a hate crime.
The vicious attack on actor Jussie Smollett was an attempted modern-day lynching. I'm glad he's safe.
To those in Congress who don't feel the urgency to pass our Anti-Lynching bill designating lynching as a federal hate crime– I urge you to pay attention. https://t.co/EwXFxl5f2m
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 29, 2019
Smollett, who plays a gay character called “Jamal Lyon” on the show Empire, came out as gay a few months after the series aired in 2015. Despite being hesitant to publicly announce his sexuality due to privacy and protection concerns, Smollett’s decision to come out and further embody Jamal Lyon proved inspirational for legions of fans.
In addition to being an openly gay actor, singer and songwriter, Smollett is also an accomplished activist for H.I.V./AIDS awareness and prevention. As the son of civil rights activists and board member of the Black AIDS Institute, Smollett’s Twitter bio which reads, “I am simply here to help save the world,” is especially fitting.
Since news of Smollett’s assault spread on Tuesday, fans, fellow actors, those in the Hollywood industry and beyond have taken to social media to show their love and support for Smollett while joining forces against heinous acts of hate.
Lee Daniels, the co-creator of Empire, posted an emotional video with a strong message that resonated with cast members and followers alike. Fox, the network that hosts the show, also took time to express its official sympathies.
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
Empire writers were heartbroken this morning to hear of the vicious attack on our beloved star @JussieSmollett. The story that Jussie tells through Jamal is one of tolerance, acceptance and love, and we are disgusted that our divided world subjected such a kind soul to violence.
— Empire Writers (@EmpireWriters) January 29, 2019
Smollett’s case is by no means an outlier. In 2017 over 8,000 people were victims of hate crimes (not including the thousands of crimes that go unreported) and around 76 percent of victims were targeted because of their race and/or sexuality.
The trend of hate crimes seems to be on the rise in the years since Trump’s election, and the numbers aren’t projected to decrease. But if there is any hope for positive change in our country, it is evident in those willing to stand up for what they believe in and rally behind the most vulnerable communities in need of kindness and protection.
“I don’t believe that we were created to hate. I believe that we were created only to love. Love is the root of the happiest of times and of wars. Love, or lack of love — but love is the root of everything.” -Jussie Smollett via Out Magazine
Note: As there are no current suspects and no one has been apprehended for attacking Smollett, anyone with information relevant to the incident is urged to call the Area Central Detectives at 312-747-8382.
Photo: USA Today