Here’s a quick recap: When the Grey’s Anatomy actor won BET’s Humanitarian Award in June, he used it to deliver an impactful message concerning justice and the power of people of color in the arts. More than a week after it aired, the viral speech is still generating heated conversation online. Over the weekend, Erin Smith created a petition on Change.org urging ABC to fire Williams, writing that his politically-minded speech was “a racist, hate speech against law enforcement and white people.” Grey’s Anatomy’s creator Shonda Rhimes addressed it with a few words in support for Williams on Twitter.
Smith’s petition, which had 6,960 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, also galvanized other Williams supporters to start petitions of their own, which have proven far more popular than the original. The 14 pro-Williams petitions, which together have gathered 35,236 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, urge ABC to keep Williams and demand a public statement of support from the channel.
The most popular petition, which Dawn Murphy created, had 20,546 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. It’s not only about keeping Williams’ portrayal of the character, but also calls for ABC and Shonda Rhimes to publicly align with Williams stating, “now is the time for us to stand for Jesse and petition Shonda Rhimes and the other decision makers at “Grey’s Anatomy” and ABC to support this brave leader, not just by not firing him or in any way diminishing his role or pushing out, but by openly standing with him and speaking against hate in any form.” Rhimes has both tweeted in support of Williams and retweeted the actor potentially alluding to the situation.
A spokesperson for Grey’s Anatomy at ABC declined to comment on this story.