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‘Empire’ actor’s tale of beating puts spotlight on rise in hate crimes

Jussie Smollett | YOUTUBE

I don’t know what to make of what “Empire” star, Jussie Smollett, says happened to him in Streeterville.

Smollett, a cast member on the popular TV show filmed at a studio on the West Side, claims two masked men physically beat him up at 2 a.m. while hurling racial and homophobic slurs.

Even worse, the actor, who is openly gay, says his attackers threw an unknown liquid on him and put a rope around his neck.

According to the actor, the assailants yelled, “This is MAGA country,” during the assault.

Smollett was able to take himself to a friend’s apartment where police were called about 40 minutes later. When officers arrived, Smollett still had the rope around his neck, and was still wearing the shirt splattered with the unidentified substance.

Wednesday evening, police said surveillance images show “two persons of interest” in the reported homophobic and racist attack.

The incident sounds so bizarre, it is easy to doubt it happened.

But far worse hate crimes have happened in recent years.

Who would have thought that a young white man would walk into a black church in Charleston and kill nine people during Bible study, as Dylann Roof did in 2015?

Last week, a 30-year-old white supremacist named James Harris Jackson pleaded guilty to the 2017 stabbing death of Timothy Caughman, an African-American. Jackson told the court he believed the killing would “spark a nationwide race war,” the Associated Press reported.

The reported attack on Smollett included every hateful element you could think of: racism, homophobia, lynching and Trumpism.

In response, there has been an outpouring of support for Smollett from Hollywood entertainers who expressed outrage that something so virulent could happen to him because he is black and gay.

U.S. Congressman Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., has demanded that a federal investigation be launched and used the opportunity to urge fellow legislators to support his proposed “Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act.”

In a city where teenagers are routinely carjacking vehicles at gunpoint and robbing people of their possessions in broad daylight, it isn’t hard to believe that Smollett got beat up while walking alone at 2 a.m.

But the alleged hate crime puts a spotlight on a growing problem.

According to a recent FBI report, the numbers of hate crimes reported in the U.S. increased by 17 percent in 2017.

There is a lot of interest in this incident –– not only because of who Smollett is –– but because racism and homophobia are involved.

Frankly, the media and the public react strongly when violence involves allegations of a hate crime compared to the gun violence that takes place on our streets every day.

For example, in 2016, when Chicago was practically in a state of emergency because of skyrocketing homicides, the attack on a white teen with mental disabilities by four young African-Americans was an international scandal.

One of the attackers livestreamed the others beating and racially taunting the victim with demands that he denounce Trump and say, “I love black people.”

Three co-defendants got prison sentences after pleading guilty to hate crime and kidnapping charges. After spending more than a year in jail before reaching a plea deal, the woman who livestreamed the attack on Facebook Live got probation.

On the day that Smollett was beaten in Streeterville, three people were wounded in shootings, including a 67-year-old man who was shot in the back of the head while sitting inside a home.

A 33-year-old man was shot while shoveling snow in the Scottsdale area, and a 21 year-old man was wounded in Bronzeville. On the West Side, an argument between two men ended with one being shot three times.

These days, gun violence rarely warrants more than a mention.

As for Smollett’s trauma, police are still trying to corroborate his story.

But after this, he might want to rethink walking to Subway alone in the wee hours.

This might not be “MAGA country,” but Chicago has proven itself to be a violent city.