We have seen the incredible reactions across the country as stories of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling have gone national. You may have also heard about Vinson Ramos, Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez, Pedro Villanueva and Raul Saavedra-Vargas who have also been killed by police—just last week. Our country had long-lasting, multiracial gatherings and calls to justice after the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Alongside the hope and power of the communities gathering together, we also feel the insidious silences that can follow untold stories of violence.
Many times, stories of police violence and racial profiling do not become national news. A recent killing in Asheville, North Carolina is a perfect example. We lift up the name of Jerry Williams.
Jerry was born on July 12, 1980 as Jai Lateef Solveig Williams. He was shot and killed by Tyler Radford of the Asheville Police Department on July 2, 2016. He was a human being, a son, a father, and a friend. We have not received much national news, and even our local news sources have failed to publish the written accounts of many eye-witnesses or the family. There was an alleged 911 call with a complaint of a black man in a white car shooting a gun through a public housing neighborhood, and when Jerry was confronted by police, he was shot 7 times. They claim that he had a large gun, and that he was fighting with a woman in the car.
I probably don’t have to tell you about the public narrative, and how it has aimed to soil Jerry’s moral character. That story is already very old—several hundred years old. There seems to be a narrative in this country that if a person is deemed “dangerous” in the ways that we have perpetuated since the original colonization of this country, they lose the rights to a legal council, trial, judge, or reformation and become subject to public execution on sight. Our country’s outcry at the loss of justice is loudest with cases captured by video evidence, when “he was doing nothing wrong” or “his hands were up”. Those are relevant and important pieces of the puzzle, to be sure, and yet, it is far too easy to tell the story of a “dangerous black man” in America.
We have yet to see any video footage of Jerry’s death. Witnesses have told the public that they filmed the incident on phones, but that their phones have been confiscated by police and have not been returned. The police did not wear body cameras, and the dash camera on the police cruiser apparently was not on. Deaverview Apartments, where Jerry was killed, have surveillance cameras like all public housing, and yet, police maintain that no video footage exists. In a national context, it’s important to remember that the man who filmed Alton Sterling’s murder has recently been arrested on trumped up charges. We know this trend, as a country, very well. We need to be vigilant in cases where evidence goes missing or the witness is punished.
Days after Jerry was killed in Asheville, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 972. As of October 1st of this year, law enforcement video recordings will no longer be part of the public record and the public will be prohibited in viewing the recordings unless they are able to overcome significant legal impediments. Individuals on camera and those directly involved in the cases filmed will be permitted to view the footage if they come to court. “My goal,” McCrory claims, “is to protect those who protect us.” In response to the growing evidence that our communities of color are disproportionately at risk, our Governor has chosen to limit the evidence. The ACLU of North Carolina has already called this law “shameful.” I cannot imagine the audacity that our legislature has to argue the validity of lethal force, while concealing its practices from the public.
I met Jerry’s mother on Sunday. All week, she has been holding the teddy bear he kept as a child. She told a group of us gathered in support, “If you see me staring off into space, I’m thinking about those bullets.” She asked why her son had to be shot 7 times. Why witnesses claimed he put his hands up, out the window, while the police have a different story. Why no officer gave him commands, but rather, shot first. Why no ambulance ever came, and it took 90 minutes for a fire truck to arrive. Why, until recently, no city official has reached out in condolence that our tax dollars put bullets through her child. Why the death certificate says the cause of death is pending, but is written in hand, unofficially, and why she was not allowed to identify the body of her son before he was sent to the state medical examiner
There comes an awful conflict—we should not need to see the footage to believe our hurting communities. And yet, we cannot deny that the public outcry has been amplified with the ability to bear witness, and share the truth. As long as our country operates on deep seeded biases, and under-supported and often times traumatized officers have to make split-second decisions with a gun in their own hands, we will see disproportionate rates of violence. And the system is very busy protecting itself.
Click here to find the published accounts from witnesses, family members, and Asheville Black Lives Matter. Lift up their voices, and their needs. You can share this on social media, in your hometown, and with the political leaders of Asheville. I urge you to use your voice. You can also help the family raise the necessary $5,000 for a second autopsy of their loved one, here https://www.gofundme.com/2d7rryrr.
Asheville is a tourist economy. Let our city know that you will not be interested in investing in Asheville if we don’t get answers about Jerry Williams. Ask them if they have listened to the family, and what actions they plan to take. Here is a list of contacts:
Mayor Esther Manheimer
PO Box 7148 Asheville, NC 28802
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler
Councilman Cecil Bothwell
Councilman Brian Haynes
Councilwoman Julie Mayfield
Councilman Gordon Smith
Councilman Keith Young
Asheville Police Department
100 Court Plaza, Asheville NC 28801
Chief of Police Tammy Hooper
If you contact any or all of the above Asheville officials, remember to remain respectful but get your point across. Thank you.
Peace and Justice for All,
NC Community Organizer
We the People: Working Together