A week before he says he was attacked by two men yelling slurs, “Empire” star Jussie Smollett reported receiving a small white envelope addressed to him in a thick red scrawl at the Fox production studios on the West Side.
Smollett told police he and the show’s executive producer used gloves to open the envelope. Inside was a sheet of white paper with a threat in cut-out letters: “You will die black fag.” There was white powder in the envelope, but it was later determined to be crushed acetaminophen, a pain reliever found in Tylenol, police said.
Witnesses told police a postal worker dropped off the letter. It was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park on Jan. 18, four days earlier, and bore two American flag stamps. The letters MAGA were written, also in red ink, in the upper left corner of the envelope.
A week later, Smollett — who is black and openly gay — said he had just left a Subway shop in Streeterville and was walking to his apartment when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him and wrapped a rope around his neck while yelling, “This is MAGA country.”
A chemical — maybe bleach — was poured on him, police said.
Police have not said whether they believe the two incidents are related, and so far they are being investigated separately: The letter by the FBI and the alleged attack by Chicago police.
No progress has been reported on the letter and very little on the reported attack. Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Friday that detectives were “making gains” and he hoped there would a “successful resolution soon.” He offered no details.
Detectives have checked more than a dozen cameras in the Streeterville area, but had yet to find any footage of an attack. They have been able to track stretches of Smollett’s walk between a Subway shop and his apartment building and have spotted two other people in the area at the time. But the images are dark and blurry.
Smollett has told police he was on the phone the time with his music manager, who says he heard the slurs and a scuffle. But both of them have so far declined to hand over their cellphones to detectives.
Despite skepticism voiced on social media, Johnson police “have no reason to believe (Smollett’s) not being genuine with us.”
“Empire,” which premiered on the Fox network in 2015, is a musical drama that films in Chicago for most of the year. The series stars Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson and Bryshere Gray. Smollett plays a gay musician.
Monday morning, Henson was asked about Smollett while appearing on “Live with Kelly and Ryan” to promote her new film, “What Men Want.”
“You know, he’s resilient,” she said. “You know, when your very fiber is love, and that’s all you know… You know what I mean? That’s just who he is, so he’s very resilient. Very resilient. That’s my baby . . .Everybody was sending him love. And I think, you know, that’s important because you know that was traumatic.”
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