#Justice4Jerry on the march

July 20, 2016

Jacob Cook reports on the police killing of a father of five and the fight to win justice.

JAI "JERRY" WILLIAMS, a resident of Asheville, North Carolina, and 35-year-old father of five, was shot and killed July 2 by police Sgt. Tyler Radford. Williams was struck by as many as seven bullets.

Jerry's family describes him as a caring and peaceful man, devoted to his friends and family, and known for his sense of humor.

According to a news report about the shooting, based on statements from the Asheville Police Department (APD) and Chief Tommy Hooper, a 911 caller reported hearing shots fired in the vicinity of Pisgahview Apartments. Unnamed officers on the scene claim to have encountered a vehicle matching a description given to the dispatcher, which they say they chased into Deaverview Apartments, where the vehicle came to a stop.

As the APD tells it, an officer issued verbal commands, and Jerry "displayed a weapon." Sgt. Radford then allegedly opened fire because he "feared for his life."

But a statement from the Williams family, based on their interviews with eyewitnesses, refutes most of the details released by the APD about the events that day.

Asheville residents come out to demand justice for another victim of police violence
Asheville residents come out to demand justice for another victim of police violence

Witnesses interviewed by Williams family members emphatically deny that any chase occurred and that Jerry was armed. One person quoted by the Williams family said that Jerry was out of the car, appeared unarmed, and had his hands in the air when Sgt. Radford opened fire. The witness also said no ambulance arrived on the scene after Jerry was shot, and that the APD left Jerry's body to lie in the street for over an hour.

Although the killing occurred at the Deaverview Apartments, an Asheville Housing Authority project subject to intense over-policing and surveillance, the APD says there is no video of the shooting, and that the police and cars involved weren't equipped with body cameras or dashboard cameras.

Perhaps it is only a coincidence that on July 11--one week after the killing and following marches and sit-ins in Asheville and around the world sparked by the police killings of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana--a majority of both Democrats and Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 972, which prohibits public access to video recorded by police agencies.


Donate to a fund to help the Williams family cover legal and other expenses in their fight for #Justice4Jerry.

Although many departments already refuse access to recorded video by declaring it part of a "personnel file" and therefore not subject to public viewing, HB 972 codifies that informal practice into law.

Had Sgt. Radford not killed him, Jerry would have turned 36 on July 12. Radford is on paid administrative leave as the Williams family, rather than celebrating with their loved ones on his birthday, is burdened by the grief of their loss--and the cost of funeral arrangements.

The APD says it won't release specific details about how and why Williams was shot. Yet in the same breath, its spokespeople announced details of an alleged car chase and claimed that Williams was assaulting a woman in the car before he was shot for displaying a weapon. The police have released the weapon type used by Radford, nor the number of shots he fired, but they did give the exact type of rifle they claimed was in Williams' possession, and asserted that "shell casings" were found at a scene.

Clearly, the APD is willing to release information that justifies its offers' actions, while smearing the victim. Taken together with the statements of witnesses that contradict the police version of events, this suggests that the APD is closing ranks to conceal its actions. The police want to convince us that Jerry Williams deserved to be executed in the street without trial or conviction.

However, the Black Lives Matter movement has shown everyone how to fight back against the customary ways that the police degrade and destroy Black lives. Thanks to the movement against racism and police brutality, people are protesting the killer cops in the streets, seeking political education and trying to take control over their lives and neighborhoods.

IN THE week after Williams' killing, protests erupted around the world following the police executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. This was the context for a coalition of activists led by Black Lives Matter Asheville to call a march for July 9 to demand justice for Jerry Williams.

Some 150 demonstrators gathered at a local bar located a block away from the Asheville Police Department headquarters. The march began with a passionate speech from Delores Venable, a member of the Asheville Black Lives Matter community, about the consequences of police violence in this profoundly segregated city.

Following several prayers, demonstrators set off down the middle of the street to gather in front of the Asheville Police Department. Along the route and in front of the building, the march was led by the family of Jerry Williams, who led the singing and chants of "We want justice, justice for Jerry" and "No justice, no peace."

From there, protesters continued towards the heart of downtown, marching in a main road flanked by office buildings and busy restaurants filled with tourists. The protesters took the streets all throughout town as they marched, forcing police to redirect traffic.

The demonstration ended with a speak-out held in a busy main road, where members of Black Lives Matter and the Williams family highlighted the need for further organizing and actions until the demands of the family are won.

Despite the attempts of the right wing to link the recent killings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge to the anti-racist movement, the fight for justice must continue. The trepidation of the young movement can only be resolved by determined struggle against the institutions of state violence.

Not only is this movement critically important to win the fight to make Black lives truly matter, but the anti-racist struggle is inspiring many people all over the world to fight for justice. People are beginning to learn not only how to protest in the streets, but how to build a sustained movement. Holding public meetings and cultural events, raising funds, giving interviews, collecting petition signatures and bringing in new layers of ordinary people by argument, education and protest will all be key in the coming weeks.

The movement to win justice for Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jerry Williams and so many others won't be turned around by repression, by right-wing backlash or by the prospect of a long struggle. It's going to be a long uphill battle to win the demands of the Williams family, but #Justice4Jerry marches on.

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