Jesse Williams, police killing black people,
and why we can no longer remain silent
Written by Eleanor Gaston, Mount St. Joseph University Intern, Summer 2016
On June 26, 2016 Jesse Williams, star of the popular television series Grey’s Anatomy, was honored at the BET Awards with a humanitarian
award. Williams gave a passionate acceptance speech in which he challenged systemic racism in this country, “A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.” He went on to dedicate the award to the “real organizers all over the country, the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers and the students.”
In response to his speech, a user of Change.org organized a petition to have Williams removed from Grey’s Anatomy. The petition stated, “Jesse Williams spewed a racist, hate speech against law enforcement and white people at the BET awards. If this was a white person making the same speech about an African American, they would have been fired and globally chastised, as they should be, but there has been no consequences to Williams’ actions. There’s been no companies making a stand against his racist remarks and no swift action condemning his negative attitude.”
The petition has gained over 26,000 signatures. Shonda Rhimes, the producer, writer and showrunner of Grey’s Anatomy has no plans to honor the petition.
It’s interesting that one man standing on stage making a speech can garner so much outrage and attention. Especially in light of the fact that black people are killed unjustly by police at alarming rates. Where is the outrage for the loss of black lives?
In his speech, Williams shared, “We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s gonna happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our country, or we will restructure their function, and ours.”
In 2015 over 102 unarmed black people were killed by police. That’s almost two black people per week killed by police in this country.
There have been two deaths just this week – Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, LA, on Tuesday, July 5th and Philando Castile of St. Paul, MN, on Wednesday, July 6th. Both Louisiana and Minnesota are states that honor the conceal carry permit. In the case of Philando Castile, who was stopped because of a broken tail light, he announced to the officer that he did have a gun and a permit to carry it. Castile informed the officer that he was reaching for his license and registration. At that point the officer shot him four times. His girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter were passengers in the vehicle witnessed the incident.
Alton Sterling was selling CD’s outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A homeless man confronted him several times asking for money. Sterling showed the man his gun and asked him again to go away. The homeless man called the police informing them that Sterling had a gun. When the police arrived they subdued Sterling and shot him at close range while he was restrained. This is why Jesse Williams and others like him cannot, and will not be silenced. And, let us not buy into the idea that Sterling did something that warranted his execution. Police exercise poor judgement, and excessive force time and again with respect to how they interact with people of color regardless of the circumstances.
In Baton Rouge, “Stop the Killing” a grassroots organization founded by Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, has filmed upwards of 30 killings in Louisiana since 2001. Reed and his group are anti-violence activists seeking to prevent violent crimes, particularly among black youth. They perform outreach to local schools, prisons, churches and group homes. From the filming of violent crimes the group creates documentaries that are shown at demonstrations. Following a call they heard on police scanners the group rushed to Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge where Sterling was apprehended, and filmed the shooting. It’s organizations like these that can play a pivotal role in changing the injustices of the current criminal justice system.
There are however, things that we can do regardless of your physical location. Hosted by WE the PEOPLE, YOUR VOICE IN THE WHITE HOUSE, there is a petition calling for the creation of a federal law enforcement agency to supervise the behavior of all law enforcement agencies. The petition was started yesterday, July 6, and will run through August 5, 2016 to get a response from the White House. The petition calls for 100,000 signatures and has already far exceed that number. Add your signature here.
As Jesse Williams talked about changing and mobilizing, we know that the systems and how they look must change and adapt. There are actions you can take in order to initiate change in your community. To find out more, read this article.