Alicia Keys and a host of other stars, including Beyonce, Bono, Rihanna, Taraji P. Henson and Chris Rock, appear in a powerful video released Wednesday that describes “23 ways you could be killed if you are black in America.”
The video made the social media rounds after its release on Mic.com, spawning its own hashtag, 23Ways, and thousands of shares and comments. In black and white, it juxtaposes 23 artists with photos of 23 black victims of violence, with each star noting the acts that led to their deaths, mainly after interactions with police.
Many of the deaths led to intense anger and frustration among African-Americans, and kicked off protests that grew into the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an interview Wednesday, Keys said she was inspired by a Mic.com story earlier this month written by Jamilah King under the headline: “23 Everyday Actions Punishable by Death if You’re Black in America.”
It was written after Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after an altercation caught on video by a bystander. The story’s approach, listing everyday things like laughing, sitting in your car, attending a birthday party, was Keys’ call to action.
“It was just so powerful because it was all just so trivial,” she said. “I just felt so devastated and frustrated and angry, saddened and disappointed. Those are the same feelings that we all feel.”
Keys said it was easy to round up enough of her famous artist friends to hit the 23 mark.
“Each and every person I reached out to responded so quickly,” she said. “They were feeling exactly how I’m feeling and they were just ready.”
Keys begins the video with, “Failing to signal a lane change,” followed by a photo of Sandra Bland, who died in jail after being stopped by police during a traffic stop (authorities ruled it a suicide). Beyonce is next up with, “Riding in your girlfriend’s car with a child in the back,” and an image appears of Philando Castile, who was shot by police last week in Minnesota; his girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath.
Rock stares into the camera to say, “Running to the bathroom in your own apartment,” followed by the face of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old shot in the Bronx by a police officer in 2012.
Pink, Bono, Janelle Monae, Adam Levine, Common, Queen Latifah, Kevin Hart, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Hudson and Keys’ husband Swizz Beatz are among the other artists to appear.
Keys and her We Are Here organization call at the end of the video for signatures on a petition demanding President Barack Obama and Congress to work for “radical transformation to heal the long history of systemic racism so that all Americans have the equal right to live and to pursue happiness.”
In a few hours, the online petition had nearly 50,000 signatures.
“When we get 100,000 we’re going to walk that petition directly to the White House,” Keys said. “I’m going to get as many as those 23 as possible.”
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