Cause celeb: From Boardwalk Empire to fighting mass incarceration

SHARE Cause celeb: From Boardwalk Empire to fighting mass incarceration

Michael K. Williams is an actor with a strong point of view.

So strong, in fact, that he’s fighting against the prison industrial complex with the American Civil Liberties Union. He’s just signed on to be one of their ambassadors for change, and in this role, he’ll be fighting against mass incarceration and unfair prison sentences for black men (and most likely, all men of color.)

Williams, from Brooklyn, has never lost his sense of community and often talks about friends – and fans – lost to the system. The actor, who portrays Chalky White on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” wants to encourage Americans to rethink our sentencing laws in the wake of the “War on Drugs” that didn’t quite eradicate anything.

“Our criminal justice system has swallowed up too many people I love, and I’ve seen it lay waste to entire neighborhoods,” Williams told the ACLU. “This country is locking up people for too long and for things like mental illness and drug dependency. We are at a critical moment in this country, and I am proud to join the ACLU in the fight to make mass incarceration a thing of the past.”

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The United States Sentencing Commission has reported that black defendants are “20% more likely to be sentenced to prison and 21% more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants” charged with the same crimes. Williams also plans to help the ACLU push for treatment for people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. (In Cook County, this mental health issue hits particularly hard due to the recent closing of mental hospitals. As a result, some 20% of those admitted to Cook County Jail suffer from mental illness.)

Williams isn’t the only celeb to work with the ACLU on social justice issues. Harry Belafonte has worked with the group on fighting the over incarceration of juveniles; W. Kamau Bell is signed on to fight for racial justice; Melissa Etheridge is working toward marijuana refor, and Cyndi Lauper is the ambassador for LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

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