The ‘Empire’ star got candid when speaking with Robin Roberts about the January hate crime.
Jussie Smollett is not backing down.
After the 36-year-old Empire star was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in late January, he gave his first on-camera interview on Thursday’s Good Morning America with Robin Roberts.
At an emotional point in the interview, Smollett reveals the reason he initially hesitated to call the police.
"There’s a level of pride there. We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered somehow to be weak, and I’m not weak and we as a people are not weak,” he says, looking visibly upset.
In the interview, Smollett details the night of the attack, noting he was on the phone with his manager, Brandon, when he first heard his attackers approach.
"I heard as I was crossing the intersection, I heard, ‘Empire!’ I don’t answer to Empire,” he recalls. "My name ain’t Empire. And I didn’t answer. I kept walking and then I heard ‘f****t Empire n****r’ so I turned around and said, ‘The f**k did you just say to me?’”
Smollett says that at first he was just dealing with one person, noting, "I see the attacker, masked. He said, ‘This MAGA country n****r,’ punches me right in the face. So I punched his a** back. And then we started tussling. 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, and I saw where they ran.”
The actor notes that he then picked his phone back up and told his manager what had happened and it wasn’t until then that he noticed there was a rope around his neck.
“It was so fast,” Smollett explains of his delayed reaction to the rope. “It felt like minutes, but it probably was like 30 seconds, honestly. I can’t tell you, honestly. I noticed the rope and I started screaming. I said, ‘There’s a f**king rope around my neck.’"
Because his attackers were wearing ski masks and heavy winter clothing, Smollett has had a difficult time offering up a description to the police.
"I saw his stature, I gave the description as best as I could,” he says, noting he can’t recall the man’s eye color. "You have to also understand it’s Chicago in winter. People can wear ski masks and nobody’s going to question that.”
He says that the image that was released by the police of persons of interest has convinced him that those were his attackers.
"I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them, never did,” he says.
Smollett also explains why he refused to turn over his phone initially, saying, "I’m sorry but I’m not going to do that because I have private pictures and videos and numbers, my partner’s number, my family’s number, my castmates' numbers, my friend’s numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos. I don’t know what that’s going to be to hand over my phone. And honestly by then, inaccurate false statements had been put out there.”
One of the statements that Smollett claims was false was that he identified his attackers as wearing MAGA hats.
"I never said that. I didn’t need to add anything like that,” he says. "I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of a racist sundae.”
Other rumors he’s heard included that the attack was simply “a date gone wrong.”
"I so resent that narrative. I’m not going to go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody, that’s ridiculous and it’s offensive,”he says. "Yes, there’s Grindr, yes there’s Jack’d, yes there’s all of these things, which I have not been on in years. I can admit that I was on that back in the day, I was single."
He notes that his injuries left him “in a lot of pain,” but added, “Nothing was cracked. I walked into the hospital. I walked out of the hospital.”
As for what motivated the attack, Smollett says, "I can only go off of their words.”
He also addresses President Donald Trump’s response to the attack, which Trump called “horrible.”
"I don’t know what to say to that,” Smollett says. "I appreciate him not brushing over it."
The FOX star notes that he feels it’s his responsibility to speak out after having such a terrible thing happen to him.
"I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” he says. "And I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad."
He adds, "I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community, young black children to know how strong that they are, to know the power that they hold in their little pinkie."
Smollett is desperate for video footage of his attack to be found, saying, "I want that video found so badly for probably four reasons. Number one I want them to find the people that did it. Number two, I want them to stop being able to say ‘alleged attack.’ Number three, I want them to see that I fought back. And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought back… They ran off. I didn’t.”
He clarifies, "I am not advocating violence, at all, so let’s be clear about that. If you’re gonna die, fight until you do, because if you don’t fight, you have no chance.”
When asked how he’d feel if his attackers were never caught, Smollett got tearful.
"Let’s just hope that they are. Let’s not go there yet,” he says, adding that he’d be “angry” if they were never found. "They just get to go free and go about their life and possibly attack someone else and I’m here left with the aftermath of this bull? That’s not cool to me. That’s not OK. 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."
For more on the ongoing investigation, watch the clip below: