Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Criticized for speaking out against racism after Mike Brown killing

Celebrities are expected by some people to be "neutral" or "apolitical" in situations of injustice. But retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu who rose to fame during the 1980s as a fearless opponent of South Africa's brutal apartheid regime once said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Celebrities who voice their views on salient issues, including hot potatoes like police brutality and heavy-handed response to protests should not be castigated for taking a stand.

Anger and protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. Protests that erupted met with heavy police crackdown leading to the death of a second man. Protesters want to see the police officer involved in the killing of Mike Brown, which has been described as a "brutal execution of an unarmed teenager", to be arrested and prosecuted.

The case re-sparked discussions and debates on race in America. Some celebrities weighed in on the case.

Actor Jesse Williams, for example spoke on CNN about the killing of Michael Brown. He made no secret of where he stands on the issue.


The actor also expressed his thoughts on Twitter -- slamming "white supremacist cowards", according to information posted on Daily Kos.

Singer, songwriter and actor John Legend also posted his thoughts on Twitter. He tweeted, amongst other things, that "this is about racism".

Both celebrities were called out by fans and members of the public who disagreed with them.

Celebrities, I believe, should not be forced to remain silent, especially on issues that affect them. Racism remains a divisive issue in the U.S., and it negatively impacts the lives of people of color within the borders of the country, including celebrities. Affected persons should at least have the liberty to speak out against the social ill.

Human rights group Amnesty International dispatched a delegation of human rights observers to Ferguson following the killing of Michael Brown and the heavy-handed police response to protests. In a compelling letter to the chief of Ferguson Police Department, Amnesty International USA's executive director expressed concern about the use of lethal force by police.

Jesse Williams and John Legend might have lost some fans for sharing their views on police brutality and race in America but, make no mistake, they gained new fans in the process -- new fans who believe concerns raised are genuine. I remember listening to Jesse Williams speak on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, and saying to myself: "I like this guy. He speaks truth to power".

Speaking out against racism, in my view, is not incitement. It should be considered a public service announcement. That's why I followed Jesse Williams and John Legend on Twitter as a show of support at a time when some fans are "disappointed" in them.

The U.S. and other countries where racism is rife, I feel, are in dire need of more high profile people who speak out unequivocally against racism, inequality, police brutality and other social ills.

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