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'An attempted modern-day lynching': Celebrities react to horrific attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett

John Legend, Ariana Grande, Ellen, Kamala Harris and many others are expressing support and demanding change.

John Legend, Ariana Grande, Ellen, Kamala Harris and many others are expressing support and demanding change

Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after Empire actor-singer Jussie Smollett was viciously attacked in Chicago. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File) (Victoria Will/Invision/Associated Press)

This week, fans of the TV series Empire awoke to the horrific news that Jussie Smollett had been injured in a vicious attack.

The actor, musician and director, who plays musician Jamal Lyon on the show, was in Chicago when two men reportedly approached him shouting racist and homophobic slurs. [Warning: the following contains details of the attack.]

Update: Empire actor Jussie Smollett turns himself in to police to face charge of making false report

According to reports, the attackers then hit him in the face, threw an "unknown chemical substance" on him — some reports allege that the substance was bleach — and wrapped a rope around his neck. Early reports said the attack landed Smollett in hospital with multiple injuries including a cracked rib, but the actor later confirmed he was not admitted to hospital and had not cracked a rib. 

Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime; no suspects have been identified.

Since the first reports of the attack emerged, there has been an outpouring of support from celebrities online, among them John Legend, Ariana Grande, Ellen, Kamala Harris, Viola Davis, Janelle Monáe, Steve Harvey and many others.

They also demanded an end to racism and homophobia, which many say is on the rise in the United States. [Warning: some tweets contain strong language.]

"Sending love to Jussie and the Smollett family after this horrific attack" wrote Legend. "We support you and pray that you find peace and justice."

"THIS is why the LGBTQ community continue to fight to be seen and PROTECTED against hate!" wrote actress Viola Davis. "We ALL have to take this racist and homophobic act of violence very personally! My arms are around you."

"What happened to Jussie makes me really f—king sick to my stomach," wrote Grande. "Sending all the healing energy/love I possibly can and hoping for change. What can we do? Tell me & I'm there."

TV host Ellen DeGeneres also sent love, saying it was four years ago that Smollett came out as gay on her show.

Musician Janelle Monáe shared a photo of her thanking Smollett for sending her flowers after her Rolling Stone article.

"THIS HATE CRIME against our brother @jussiesmollett is proof that no matter how famous you may be it still does not protect you from vicious racist homophobes," wrote Monáe in a powerful post. "AND It is still a risk daily to be a BLACK, OUT, and PROUD human being."

In an Instagram post, actress Halle Berry says she has known Smollett since he was 10 years old, and that he is "an undisputed blessing" in the community.

"My heart is hurting knowing that he's suffering...and for what? Just for being? The fact his presence on this earth would be perceived as a threat to anyone only shows the magnitude of their fear and confusion," she writes. "I pray that our country learns to heal, that we may see each other for WHO we are and nothing more."

Several stars also posted video messages, among them Empire creator Lee Daniels and TV personality and comedian Steve Harvey.

"Jesse you are my son. You didn't deserve, nor anybody deserves, to have a noose put around your neck. To have bleach thrown on you. To be called die f---ot, n---er, or whatever they said to you," said Daniels as he chokes back tears. "You are better than that. We are better than that. America is better than that. It starts at home."

"This ain't about sexual preference or nothing. This is about coming to the aid of another brother that has tasted the brutality of hatred, racism and bigotry," says Harvey. "We're down with you, soldier. We just want you to know that."

Other Empire stars also took to social media to express their shock and sympathy, among them Naomi Campbell and Taraji P. Henson.

"I wish what happened to my baby was just one big bad joke but it wasn't and we all feel his pain right now," wrote Henson. "I tell you one thing HATE WILL NOT WIN!!!! My baby is resilient and love still lives in him."

Top politicians also expressed horror over the incident, and demanded action, among them U.S. senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, and senator Cory Booker.

"The vicious attack on actor Jussie Smollett was an attempted modern-day lynching," wrote Booker in a tweet. "To those in Congress who don't feel the urgency to pass our Anti-Lynching bill designating lynching as a federal hate crime — I urge you to pay attention."

"Jussie Smollett is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know," wrote Harris. "No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate."

In a statement, Fox said they were "deeply saddened and outraged" to learn that a member of their Empire family was viciously attacked.

"We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice," read the statement. "The entire studio, network and production stand united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own."

Here are more of the many celebrity responses:

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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