(Reuters) - Actor Jussie Smollett defended as completely truthful the account he gave of being accosted on a Chicago street by men who used racist and homophobic slurs and said on Friday he was cooperating with police.
The statement was the first Smollett has made publicly about the alleged assault since media reports about it first surfaced on Tuesday. The matter is being investigated by Chicago police as a possible hate crime.
News of the bizarre incident spread quickly on social media, with many expressing outrage while others suggested it was a hoax after police were unable to find videotape of the attack Smollett said he sustained.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level,” Smollett said in the statement.
Chicago police said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Thursday the actor had refused to turn over his cellphone records to detectives, although law enforcement officials later said he was working with investigators.
Smollett and his manager have both told police they were on the phone together when the actor, an openly gay African-American who plays a gay character on “Empire,” was accosted on a street early on Tuesday by two men shouting racial and homophobic slurs.
According to Smollett’s account, his assailants doused him with a chemical liquid before wrapping a rope around his neck and fleeing the scene. The actor took himself to a hospital but was not seriously hurt, police said.
Police said they sought phone records to independently verify that Smollett was on the phone at the time with his manager, who reportedly told police he heard the attackers saying “This is MAGA country” in an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“Cellphone records were not provided to investigators when asked,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “The victim didn’t provide them.”
However, he also said the police had “no reason to doubt” the accounts of both Smollett and his manager that they were on the phone together at the time of the alleged attack.
Another police spokesman, Officer Michael Carroll, said in a later email: “The victim is working with police as we investigate the circumstances of the incident.”
Questions raised about the veracity of his account were troubling, Smollett said in his statement, especially since “these types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender-conforming siblings daily.”
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said some of the statements made by Chicago police sought to undermine the credibility of Smollett’s allegations.
“So far, Chicago Police have risked discouraging other survivors of hate crimes from coming forward,” said Clarke, whose organization seeks to secure equal justice for all.
Several dozen people attended a rally for Smollett in New York on Friday evening organized by gay rights groups.
Danielle Perkins, an 18-year-old Brooklyn resident who will soon be heading to college to study journalism, said she came to the rally because Smollett reminded her of what she described as her own sense of vulnerability.
“I think being gay and black in this country, it’s very difficult to get jobs, to live life, just to cross the street,” Perkins said. “It seems like we’re just going backwards to the ‘60s again.”
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Allen in NEW YORK and Dan Whitcomb in LOS ANGELES; Editing by Frank McGurty, Leslie Adler and G Crosse
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