Michael Kenneth Williams of Boardwalk Empire and The Wire Named ACLU Celebrity Ambassador for Ending Mass Incarceration

September 11, 2014 12:00 am

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Williams joins ACLU’s fight against the nation’s crippling dependence on prisons

September 11, 2014

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NEW YORK – Actor Michael Kenneth Williams, star of HBO’s critically acclaimed dramas Boardwalk Empire (as Chalky White) and The Wire (as Omar Little), has signed on as the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ambassador for ending mass incarceration.

“Our criminal justice system has swallowed up too many people I love, and I’ve seen it lay waste to entire neighborhoods,” said Williams. “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.”

In his new role, Williams will support the ACLU’s efforts to rein in a correctional system that has grown out of control, due largely to the failed War on Drugs. He will help the ACLU promote criminal justice reforms to end the enormous racial and socioeconomic injustices that are evident in policies like sentencing. For instance, Black defendants are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison and 21% more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants.* Williams will also aid the ACLU in pushing for health care, not jail cells, for people struggling with substance dependency or mental illness.

“We’re at a tipping point on mass incarceration in this country, and Michael’s voice will help us move beyond the disastrous policies of the last 40 years,” said Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU. “He has the passion, deep moral conviction, and contagious optimism needed to effect real change in a criminal justice system that simply isn’t working.”

Launched in October 2013, the ACLU’s Ambassador Project pairs artists from television, film, music, and comedy with issue priorities. Like other Ambassadors, Williams will promote his ACLU issue – ending mass incarceration – online, in the media, and through public appearances. Williams will publicize and disseminate Know Your Rights resources. He will also help the ACLU shift the country’s approach to drug and alcohol addiction away from the criminal justice system and toward more effective, treatment-based solutions.

Born and bred in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Williams feels a special commitment to working with young people. He has established Making Kids Win, a charitable organization whose primary objective is to build community centers in urban neighborhoods that are in need of safe spaces for children to learn and play.

Williams began his professional career as a dancer, performing in concerts and music videos for Madonna and George Michael. Tupac Shakur discovered Williams’ acting abilities and helped him land a role in his first feature film, Bullet. Williams’ other film work includes: 12 Years a Slave, Snitch, Robocop, The Purge: Anarchy, Bringing Out the Dead, The Road, Gone Baby Gone, Life During Wartime, and I Think I Love My Wife. He co-stars in the film Kill the Messenger, which will be released in October. Williams will also be seen in the upcoming Oscar hopefuls The Gambler and Inherent Vice.

Williams joins an impressive ACLU Ambassador roster: Demian Bichir for immigrants’ rights; Harry Belafonte on the overincarceration of juveniles; W. Kamau Bell for racial justice; Lewis Black for voting rights; Melissa Etheridge for marijuana reform; Jesse Tyler Ferguson on marriage rights for same-sex couples; Cyndi Lauper on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues; and Marlee Matlin for disability rights.

More information about the ACLU Ambassador Project is available at: aclu.org/Ambassadors

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