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Jussie Smollett's family condemns "racial and homophobic hate crime"

Possible hate crime against Jussie Smollett

Chicago — The family of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has released a statement saying the actor was the victim of a "racial and homophobic hate crime" and pushing back against any suggestion that he was anything but truthful with the police.

Detectives have recovered more surveillance footage of Smollett walking in downtown Chicago before and after he said he was attacked by two masked men, including video of him arriving home with a rope around his neck, but they're still searching for any footage of the attack, a police spokesman said Thursday.

Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox television show, said the men beat him, subjected him to racist and homophobic insults, threw an "unknown chemical substance" on him and put a thin rope around his neck before fleeing. 

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Jussie Smollett Getty

He returned to his apartment afterward and his manager called police from there about 40 minutes later, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. When officers arrived, the actor had cuts and scrapes on his face and the rope around his neck. Smollett later went to a hospital for treatment.

"In the early hours of Tuesday morning, our beloved son and brother, Jussie, was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack. We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime," the family statement said. "Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice."

The statement goes on to condemn hate crimes "happening to our sisters, brothers and our gender non-conforming siblings, many who reside within the intersection of multiple identities, on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily basis all across our country." 

FBI data shows a 17 percent increase in hate crimes nationwide between 2016 and 2017.

Smollett has not spoken publicly about the attack, but his representative told The Associated Press on Wednesday night that the actor was at home and recovering.

The video from a surveillance camera at Smollett's apartment building showing him arrive home with a rope around his neck is part of a larger effort to obtain as much footage as possible of his walk from a Subway restaurant to his apartment at around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Guglielmi said detectives, who are investigating the case as a possible hate crime, have pieced together more footage from the hundreds of public and private surveillance cameras in that area of downtown Chicago, which is home to many high-end hotels and restaurants. But they still haven't found video of the attack or the men who match Smollett's description of the suspects, he said.

Guglielmi said there are still many more videos for investigators to collect and go through as they try to get a complete picture of Smollett's walk home. It is tedious work that is made more difficult because the time stamps on various cameras may not be in sync, meaning detectives have to figure out the exact times of events, he said.

"It's like putting together a puzzle," he said.

Probe ongoing in alleged attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett

Guglielmi said Smollett and his manager told detectives they were talking on the phone at the time of the attack, but that the 36-year-old actor declined to turn over his phone records to the detectives, who routinely ask for such information during criminal investigations.

Police are hoping to identify and talk to two people who were walking in the area at the time of the attack and whose grainy image the department released. Guglielmi stressed that the people are not considered suspects and that police want to question them because they were in the vicinity and might have useful information.

Reports of the attack drew a flood of outrage and support for Smollett on social media. Some of the outrage stemmed from Smollett's account to detectives that his attackers yelled that he was in "MAGA country," an apparent reference to the Trump campaign's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

President Trump expressed sympathy for Smollett on Thursday.

"That I can tell you is horrible. It doesn't get worse," the president told reporters when asked about the matter. The spot where Smollett said he was attacked isn't far from the Trump International Hotel Tower.

The FBI is investigating a threatening letter targeting Smollett that was sent last week to the Fox studio in Chicago where "Empire" is filmed, Guglielmi said. The FBI has declined to comment on the investigation.

In addition to his acting career, Smollett has a music career and is a noted activist, particularly on LGBTQ issues. Smollett's representative said his concert scheduled for Saturday in Los Angeles will go on as planned.

Now in its fifth season, the hourlong drama "Empire" follows an African-American family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry. Smollett's character is the middle son of Empire Entertainment founder Lucious Lyon and Cookie Lyon, played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively.

Chicago has one of the nation's most sophisticated and extensive video surveillance systems, including thousands of cameras on street poles, skyscrapers, buses and in train tunnels.

Police say the cameras have helped them make thousands of arrests. In one of the best-known examples of the department's use of the cameras, investigators in 2009 were able to recreate a school board president's 20-minute drive through the city, singling out his car on a succession of surveillance cameras to help them determine that he committed suicide and had not been followed and killed by someone else, as his friends speculated.