A Change.org petition launched on July 1 to have the “Grey’s Anatomy” star fired for his “racist rant.” The initiative gained media attention over the past few days, and currently has more than 19,000 supporters, with the number of signatures quadrupling in almost 24 hours.
“Jesse Williams released a cascade of inappropriate, unprofessional and racist commentary against police officers and Caucasians,” the petition argues. “Had any one of his offensive words been said by any other race other than an African American, they would’ve been publicly shamed, fired from whatever job they had, lost endorsements, advertisers, etc.”
The petition refers to a speech that the actor delivered while receiving BET’s humanitarian award for his prominent role in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day,” Williams said. “So what’s going to happen is, we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
He continued, “I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich,” he said, citing the deaths of Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Darrien Hunt.
Shonda Rhimes weighed in on Twitter to dispel the anti-Williams petition. “Um, people? Boo don’t need a petition. #ShondalandRules,” she tweeted on Monday.
Several other pro-Williams Change.org petitions have gained traction since, under names like, “Don’t let the racists win! ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ don’t fire Jesse Williams.” The latter has more than 25,000 supporters so the debate seems to currently be weighted in favor of the actor staying on the show.
Williams, who plays Dr. Jackson Avery on the ABC medical drama, responded to the controversy by tweeting, “Do not promote empty people & their tantrums. Pure clickbait to gain followers, attention & money, for themselves, not you. Never you.”
Watch Williams’ full speech from the BET Awards here: