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Jussie Smollett sat down with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts for his first televised interview — which aired on Thursday morning — since telling police that he was brutally attacked by two men in Chicago last month.
“I’m pissed off. It’s the attackers, but it’s also the attacks,” he told Roberts, also explaining that he was frustrated by those who didn’t believe this story. “Like, you know, at first it was the thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth then that’s because it’s the truth. Then it became a thing of, like, how can you doubt that? How can you not believe that? It’s the truth.”
Added Smollett, “Then it became a thing of, like, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth. You don’t even want to see the truth.”
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more,” the Empire star said of his attackers. “And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”
Smollett’s interview with Roberts comes two weeks after he told Chicago police that two men assaulted him as he was exiting a restaurant in the 300 block of East North Water Street. Smollett said that the assailants shouted, “Make America Great Again” slogans, as well as racist and homophobic slurs, at him. According to a police report, a chemical substance was poured on Smollett’s face and a rope was placed around his neck.
In his interview with Roberts, Smollett explained in detail what happened that night in Chicago. After he came home to his apartment and realized there was no food, he went to a Walgreens he thought was open 24 hours a day and to smoke a cigarette. When he discovered that the Walgreens was closed, he said he went across the street to a Subway restaurant that was still open.
As he was getting his food, he texted his manager, Brandon Z. Moore, who he thought was still in Australia, and asked him to call him. While Moore was on the phone, Smollett said he was crossing the intersection and heard someone shout “Empire” and then, “F—ot Empire n—er.” He explained that he then turned around and asked, “What the f— did you just say to me?” He saw the attacker, he said, who was wearing a mask over his face. The attacker then said, “This MAGA country, n—er.” The attacker, Smollett said, then punched him in the face.
“So I punched his ass back,” Smollett recalled, explaining that they “started tussling” by some stairs in an icy environment. As they were fighting, Smollett became aware of a second attacker, who he says was kicking him in his back.
“And then it just stopped,” he said. “And they ran off, and I saw where they ran.”
His phone had been in his pocket but fell out and “was sitting there,” and Moore was still on the phone. Moore asked what happened, and he said he “was just jumped.” It’s then that Smollett saw the rope around his neck, explaining to Roberts that he didn’t notice it before because it all happened so fast.
“I started screaming, ‘There’s a f—ing rope around my neck.’ Smollett said he thought the substance poured on him was bleach, recognizing the smell and stains on his sweatshirt. He also said he gave a body description of the first attacker to the cops and saw the eyes and bridge of the nose of that initial attacker but couldn’t tell what color that person’s eyes were. He added that he didn’t see the second person except when that individual was running away.
“It’s Chicago in winter. People can wear ski masks and no one will question that,” Smollett noted.
The Empire star revealed that he sustained injuries to his clavicle bone and bruised ribs, as he continued to hit back at charges that he made up or changed his account of what happened.
“For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing,” Smollett said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—ot, they called me a n—er. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
And he rejected “ridiculous” explanations for why he was outside at that hour, explaining that certain Subway restaurants are open 24 hours, so if you’re hungry and don’t have any food at home you have a place to go to get something to eat.
“I’ve heard that it was a date gone bad, which I also resent that narrative,” he said. “I’m not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous. And it’s offensive.”
He explained why he was initially reluctant to contact the police or hand over his cell phone.
“We live in a society where as a gay man you are somehow considered to be weak. I am not weak, and we as a people are not weak,” he said.
He left the clothes he was wearing during the attack and the rope on when he called the police, saying that he “wanted them to see.”
“I was looking at myself, just like checking myself out. I saw the bruise on my neck, you know, like the little — the rope burn around my neck,” he said.
As for his phone, Smollett said, “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I’m sorry but — I’m not gonna do that,” the singer said. “Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner’s number, my family’s number, my castmate’s 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 for — and honestly, by then, inaccurate, false statements had already been put out there,” he added.
The actor also addressed an image of two “persons of interest” wearing dark clothing that Chicago police released on Jan. 30. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did,” he said. When asked why he was so certain, Smollett responded, “‘Cause I was there.”
Smollett added that the images’ release gave him hope. “For me, when that was released, I was like, ‘OK. We’re getting somewhere,’ you know what I’m saying?” he said.
Shortly after the interview aired, Chicago police said they had identified the persons of interest. The individuals were not yet suspects, but were being questioned.
In the days that have passed, Chicago police have said that Smollett had been hesitant to turn over evidence that could help move along the investigation. Police requested Smollett’s phone records because he previously stated that he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack.
While Smollett ended up turning over his phone records, they were too heavily redacted to aid in the investigation, Chicago police said. Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement, “We are very appreciative of the victim’s cooperation. However, the records provided do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation.”
Reps for Smollett later said that he only redacted information in an effort to protect the “privacy of personal contacts.” His publicists elaborated, “Any redacted information was intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.”
As for what motivated the attack, Smollett suspects that it may have been motivated by his criticism of President Trump’s administration.
“I can just assume,” he said. “I come really, really hard against 45. I come really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.”
Trump called the attack “horrible,” and Smollett said, “I don’t know what to say to that. I appreciate him not brushing over it.”
And Smollett is confident that he was attacked over his race and sexuality.
“I could only go off of their words. I mean, who says, “f—ot Empire n—er,” “This is MAGA country, n—er,” ties a noose around your neck, and pours bleach on you? And this is just a friendly fight? I will never be the man that this did not happen to. Everything is forever changed,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to me that anything 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.”
Smollett also believes that a threatening letter, laced with white powder, sent to the Fox studio in Chicago before the attack is also connected to what happened to him, confirming that he mentioned the letter to police right away.
“In the letter, it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing toward it,” Smollett said, adding that the letter “said, ‘Smollett Jussie, you will die, black [bleep].’ There was no address, but the return address said in big red letter, ‘MAGA.'”
Smollett said he desperately wants video of the attack so that he can prove that it happened and that he fought back — and, most importantly, so that the assailants can be found.
Smollett became emotional, his eyes welling up with tears, when Roberts brought up the possibility that the attackers may never be found, saying he doesn’t know how he’ll heal if they’re not.
“Let’s just hope that they are,” he said. “Let’s not go there yet. 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.’ That just made me so angry: So I’m just going to be left here with this? Like I’m just going to be left here with, like, so 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? That’s not cool to me. That’s not OK. So I understand how difficult it will be to find them, but we gotta. I still want to believe with everything that’s happened that there’s something called justice.”
Smollett said he hoped his account of his attack would help LGBTQ youth.
“I think people need to hear the truth,” he said. “‘Cause everybody has their own idea. Some are healing and some are hurtful, but I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community — young, black children — to know how strong that they are.”
Earlier this month, Smollett addressed the incident during a concert in Los Angeles. Smollett explained that as a result of the attack, he was left bruised but his ribs were not cracked as had been reported. He sought medical treatment right away but was not hospitalized, also contrary to reports.
“And, above all,” he told the crowd at the time, “I fought the fuck back.”
Watch part of Smollett’s interview with Roberts below.
Feb. 13, 5:09 p.m. Updated to include clip of Smollett discussing persons of interest.
Feb. 14, 5:16 a.m. Updated with Roberts’ full interview with Smollett.
Feb. 14, 8:18 a.m. Updated to include that Chicago police have identified the persons of interest.
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