On Thursday morning Empire star Jussie Smollett gave his first on-air interview after being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago. “I’m pissed off,” Smollett told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. “What is it that has you so angry? Is it the attackers?” said Roberts. “It’s the attackers, but it’s also the attacks. At first, it was a thing of, like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth, then that’s it. Because it’s the truth,” he said. “Then it became a thing of, like, ‘Oh, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth.”
On the night of the incident, Smollett said he arrived home to find there was no food in his apartment. So, he went to Walgreens to find food and have a cigarette. Walgreens was closed, so he walked across the street to Subway. At that time, he received a call from his manager, Brandon Moore. After grabbing a “tuna sandwich and a salad,” as he was crossing the intersection, he heard someone shout Empire.
“I heard ‘Empire.’ And I don’t answer to Empire. My name ain’t Empire. And I didn’t answer. I kept walking. And then I heard ‘faggot Empire nigger.’ So, I turned around and I said, ‘Fuck did you just say to me?’ And then I see the attacker, masked. And he said, ‘This is MAGA country, nigger.’ Punches me right in the face. So, I punched his ass back.”
“And then, we started tussling, you know, it was very icy. And we ended up tussling by the stairs, fighting, fighting, fighting. There was a second person involved who was kicking me in my back. Then it just stopped. And they ran off.”
After the scuffle, Smollett noticed that he had a rope wrapped around his neck and his sweater had been stained with bleach. He also noticed that his phone, which was still on a call with his manager Moore, had fallen out of his pocket onto the ground. Moore later corroborated Smollett’s account of the incident based on what he heard over the phone.
In the aftermath, Smollett faced criticism afterward for not immediately handing over his phone to authorities. But he told Roberts that it was simply to protect his information.
“I have private pictures and videos and numbers. My partners number, my family’s number, my castmates number, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos, I don’t know what that’s gonna be to hand over my phone.”
Earlier this week, Smollett submitted phone records to the Chicago Police Department from within an hour of the incident. But CPD said they were “limited and heavily redacted,” according to Roberts.
When asked why he thought he was targeted, Smollett said it might be for his criticism of President Donald Trump.
“I could only go off of their words. I mean, who says ‘faggot Empire nigger,’ ‘This is MAGA country, nigger,’ ties a noose around your neck, and pours bleach on you? And this is just a friendly fight?” he asked. “It’s unbelievable to me that any of this has come to this. That every single thing that I have done, every single thing that I have cooperated with, somehow has gotten twisted into being some bull that it’s not.”