Jussie Smollett: Brothers held over ‘attack’ on Empire actor

Jussie Smollet on stageImage copyright
Getty Images

Chicago police have arrested two brothers in connection with the alleged attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett.

The US TV star needed hospital treatment last month after a suspected racist and homophobic attack.

Police said on Friday they were questioning two Nigerian brothers for a second day. The men had worked as Empire extras, sometimes going to the gym with the actor, their lawyer said.

Jussie Smollett said he’d been “forever changed” by the alleged attack.

The 36-year-old actor has said two white men hurling racial and homophobic insults punched him, poured a chemical substance over him, and put a rope around his neck on 29 January.

Earlier, police had dismissed local media reports that the alleged attack was a hoax, and said Mr Smollett continued to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.

Who are the suspects?

The brothers were picked up at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, returning from a trip to Nigeria on Wednesday night, their lawyer told US media.

“When they first learned about what happened to [Jussie] they were horrified,” Gloria Schmidt told CBS Chicago. “This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that.”

A police spokesman confirmed they were treating the unidentified men as “potential suspects” as there was “probable cause” that they may have engaged in a crime. No further details were given.

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Media captionAttacked actor ‘has tasted brutality of hatred’

On Thursday, police had searched their home but as of Friday afternoon, the men have not been formally charged.

At least one of the brothers worked on Empire, police confirmed.

What does Jussie Smollett say?

Recounting the night publicly for the first time, he told US network ABC he had hesitated to call police after it happened because of pride.

“We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered somehow to be weak. And I am not weak. And we as a people are not weak.”

When police came he says he left the rope around his neck and was still wearing clothes that smelled of bleach.

“I went down to where it happened and I walked them through exactly what happened.”

The actor said he had just got back to Chicago that day, and after getting home realised there was no food in the house. He said he had ended up at a Subway sandwich shop getting some food – something people have questioned as strange.

He told Good Morning America it was “ridiculous” that people thought he would lie about his reasons for being outside at 2am in freezing temperatures.

“Subway is open 24 hours for a reason, so that when you’re hungry at night and you ain’t got no food, you go to Subway,” he said.

He said he thought he would’ve been doubted less if he had said his alleged attacker “was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black”.

“And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”

Image copyright
Chicago Police

Image caption

Chicago police released this CCTV image of two “people of interest” in the case

There were claims he had told police his attackers were wearing the Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats that are associated with President Donald Trump.

“I never said that. I didn’t need to add anything like that,” he said. “I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”

But the attackers did say “This is MAGA country”, he said.

The actor said he thought he had been targeted because he was outspoken about President Trump – who when asked about the attack said “That’s horrible, it doesn’t get worse”.

“I don’t know what to say to that. I appreciate him not brushing over it,” Mr Smollett said of Mr Trump’s comments.

Writers of Empire have stood behind the actor since the attack – and after reports that plans to write him off the show had led to the hoax, they came out in support of him again.

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