“Empire” star Trai Byers spoke with TheWrap for a wide-ranging installment of “Drinking with the Stars” in which he gave his thoughts on the ongoing protests and riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray.
“It’s disappointing that the first thing that we do … in this country is look for the negative,” the actor said. “And then associate color with that and associate behavior with color.”
Byers also compared the riots and protests of the present to demonstrations during the era of Martin Luther King Jr. “Back then the solution was demonstration. Baltimore to me looks like a demonstration, albeit … not a nonviolent demonstration, which is unfortunate,” he said.
“I wasn’t there so I can’t say what happened and what didn’t happen, but death, violence of that nature is always a last resort,” he said.
In addition to his role as the bipolar Andre Lyon on the hit Fox series, Byers previously played real-life civil rights activist James Forman in the Oscar-winning drama “Selma.”
Byers continued, saying it’s a responsibility of artists to instigate change in their society. “It’s about taking the mirror, casting it onto society and saying, ‘This is what we look like,'” he said. “How are we going to change this for our children, you know? Freddie Gray is somebody’s kid. Oscar Grant is somebody’s kid. Trayvon Martin is somebody’s kid.”
Grant and Martin were both young, unarmed African-American men who were killed in recent years: Grant by a police officer in California in 2009; Martin by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012.
Gray was arrested on Apr. 12 and sustained a spinal cord injury while in police custody, eventually slipping into a coma and dying one week later. On Friday, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Gray’s death was a homicide. The officers involved have been charged and taken into custody.