10 times Jesse Williams spoke out against racism, police brutality and injustice

The "Grey's Anatomy" star has become one of our most essential cultural voices

Published July 23, 2015 5:30PM (EDT)

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“Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams has become one of the country's most essential cultural critics. The half-Swedish, half-African American actor has consistently raised his voice to smartly draw attention to issues of racism and social injustice in the country, from the shooting of Michael Brown to the Baltimore riots, while his position as a star of a long-standing, very mainstream network TV show gives him a unique platform to spread his progressive views to a wide audience. Here are some of his best points:

1. On racism onscreen:

In 2013, Williams wrote a piece for CNN criticizing Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained, writing that the film harmfully represents the experience of slavery. As he writes, "Films such as 'Django Unchained' carry with them an uncommonly high concentration of influence and opportunity. Due to the scarcity of diverse and inspiring representations on screen, Quentin Tarantino's latest movie casts a longer shadow than many are willing to acknowledge."

2. On the Michael Dunn trial:

In February 2014, Williams spoke on HLN about the Michael Dunn trial, saying "It is not a black problem. It is a white problem. This is an American problem. It is a societal problem."

3. On the death of John Crawford: 

In October 2014, Williams penned an incisive CNN essay on the killing of 22-year-old John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart. "For centuries, certain white civilians and members of law enforcement have used the privileged presumption of decency afforded them to cast aspersions on black people,” he writes. "Such aspersions are deadly for African Americans. Crawford's fate is one few white people will ever fear or experience, particularly in a brightly lit Walmart.”

4. On the killing of Michael Brown:

"I think we have to talk about the narrative and make sure we’re starting at the beginning. You will find that people doing the oppressing often want to start the narrative at a convenient point,” Williams said, talking about the killing of Ferguson teen Michael Brown on CNN. “This started with a kid getting shot and killed and left in the street for four hours. I’ve never seen a white body left in the heat for four hours in the sweltering heat.”

In October, Williams addressed Brown’s death again in a powerful Twitter essay. "Why do so many of you reflexively defend, identify w/, and antagonize on behalf of whiteness whenever blackness is involved?" he asked. "You don't feel compelled to justify every thing done by everyone who happens to be straight or male or right-handed. So why whiteness? What about black pain is so fun to you? From where is that joy derived?” He also questioned why people feel the need to dress in Trayvon Martin Halloween costumes, writing: "We don't reflexively celebrate random or routine white death, make memes of your bleeding corpses, etc. Tell us about this unique obsession."

5. On race and double standards:

In December, Williams continued to address the issue of race and double standards in America in a viral video segment:

6. On Martin Luther King, Jr.:

In January, Williams spoke out on Twitter about Martin Luther King, writing that African Americans needed to "#ReclaimMLK" and not water down his legacy, but recognize him as "the fearless leader of a movement to disrupt real physical, social & psychological oppression (which at the time, was precisely what America stood for & shouted down upon millions of it’s most hardworking, longstanding citizenry)."

7. On the death of Eric Harris:

Responding to the April 2 killing of Eric Harris, Jesse Williams spoke out on Twitter to call out Americans who attempt to justify police shootings, writing "ATTN: all of you justify-anything 'patriots' who reflexively spout excuses great & small for ANY & ALL violent death of Black/African people. Kindly provide a list of offenses that are punishable by violence & public execution at the hands of men uniformed by gov’t &/or whiteness. We will [not] wait. You will not answer. You never do."

8. On the Baltimore protests:

As protests swept Baltimore, Williams took to Twitter yet again to discuss issues of race and police brutality — and to give a little lesson in the meaning of the term riot — writing "There is nothing "black" about rioting. How do you think we got all this land?”

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9. On the Brelo verdict:

When police officer Michael Brelo was deemed not guilty for his role in the killing of African-American couple Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, Williams took to Twitter as usual, writing “ Count to 137. 1 cop shot 49 times, reloading twice. Count to 49. Jumping onto hood like Mad Max to shoot 15 times. Count to 15. You didn't count cuz it would take too long & make it way too real. We don't count because we don't count. But we do count so we will count. The very act of 13 cops empowered enough to shoot 2 UNARMED Americans 137 times in public is evidence of anti-blackness as state policy."

10. On the death of Sandra Bland: 

Most recently, he took to Twitter to speak out about the death of Sandra Bland in yet another powerful Twitter essay. "WE DO NOT BEGIN AS POLICE PROPERTY, to be freed or detained based on some guy's mood or feeling,” he writes. "We are not theirs."

By Anna Silman

MORE FROM Anna Silman

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Grey's Anatomy Jesse Williams Justice Race Racial Justice Video