Jesse Williams blew television audiences away with his Sunday evening BET Awards speech when he accepted the Humanitarian Award. Those who follow Williams’ trailblazing activism (or even simply his Twitter feed) know that his fountain of knowledge has been flowing for many years. He’s never strayed from the path of calling out institutionalized racism, and he’s prone to dropping wisdom all over the place, including impromptu street interviews that land on YouTube. Williams has stood at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement since its inception, and as Uproxx’s Marcus Benjamin pointed out, this awards show broadcast not only on BET, but also MTV and Nickelodeon. So, Williams chose the perfect venue to shine the light upon police brutality for a mainstream audience. His speech went mega viral and launched thousands of watercooler conversations.
Naturally, there have been a few messy reactions. Justin Timberlake felt inspired by Williams’ speech, but popped off at a Twitter reply in an unsavory way. And the speech also reached the ears of conservative anchor Tomi Lahren (of The Blaze), who has grown infamous for her Dennis Miller-esque rants against President Obama, Beyonce, and millennials. She now takes aim at Williams and the BET Awards, but completely misses the mark. Here’s the part of Williams’ speech that riles her up the most:
“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So, I don’t want to hear any more 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.”
Lahren seizes upon “make a sandwich” as a literal statement. Yet Williams was alluding to how quickly the city of Cleveland (and its police force) returned to business as usual after the death of 12-year-old Rice. And perhaps he was hitting out at an old saying about grand juries too, but only Williams knows. What is clear is how surveillance footage showed Rice playing with a toy gun in a park when he was gunned down by an officer, and the facts of the case were not in dispute. Yet the city settled with the family and prescribed gun education for children, rather than addressing police actions.
Even high profile cases like Rice’s are easily dispensed with without legal retribution, and the problem will continue unabated unless activists like Williams bring the message to the masses. However, Lahren summarized Williams’ lengthy speech with a tone-deaf response:
“Was it a celebration of black entertainment or an opportunity to complain about the plight of wealthy black actors and musicians? I saw a lot of talent on that stage, but at the same time, a whole lot of victimhood. The BET definition of a humanitarian is someone who perpetuates a war on cops.”
Just like Williams’ crusades are not new, neither are Lahren’s responses to politically oriented statements that don’t fit into her box. She accuses just about everyone of perpetuating victimhood and should probably change up her rhetoric at some point, since she sounds like a Vine clip on repeat. And there’s no possible way she can dismantle Williams’ speech with such a dismissive approach. But she tried in these two videos. The first one contains her original rant, and the second features her rebuttal against criticism.