By: Ryan D. Daniels
This is probably the hardest thing for me to ever write. I have never openly or honestly talked about the death of my father. However, too much blood was shed before his and so much blood has been shed since his.
Amadou Diallo. Sean Bell. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Oscar Grant. Rekia Boyd. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. And now, Alton Sterling.
You know these names. Their names were splattered all over the headlines and their deaths made international headlines. I would like to add a name to this list, a death that was merely a blimp on the local North Carolina news station, Emile Williams. Emile Williams, Emile Betiste Williams, my father.
These days I rarely talk about my father it hurts to talk about someone who meant so much to me in terms of past tense. “He was a good dad.” “I could always count on him.” It also hurts because my father didn’t just die he was snatched away from me on January 26, 2008, a day I will never forget. I can still remember what I was wearing down to my shoes when I found out my father had been killed.
I remember the last time I spoke to my father. I told him I would call him when I felt better. I had recently been stricken with a severe case of strep throat and I still did not have a voice. When I tried calling him over the next few days. I received no answer, which was extremely strange.
That Friday afternoon I returned home to see my mother’s truck in the yard. Whenever my mother was there in the middle of the day something had happened. When I walked into the house tears were sitting in she and my grandmother’s eyes. I knew something was wrong and it felt like all of the phones in the house started ringing all at once; my cell phone, my mom’s cell phone, my grandmother’s house phone. My mother asked who was calling me, I looked at the number and it wasn’t a number familiar to me. I told her I didn’t know but before I could answer it she took the phone from my hands and answered it, “No, we’re about to tell her now.”
The only thought running through my mind was tell me what. I knew something was terribly wrong but with who was my question. Once my mother got off the phone with whomever that mystery person was she came over and she told me my father had been killed. I collapsed to a heap in the middle of my grandmother’s living room floor.
“Killed, how?” “Someone shot him.” I could not register that. It was not until later that evening I found out he was killed by a Greensboro police officer after he supposedly stole a diamond ring from a jewelry store located in Four Seasons Mall. Officer William Symmes was moonlighting as a security guard at the mall and gave chase in his mall security vehicle. Yes, he gave chase. Instead of calling for backup from on-duty officers his rent-a-cop ass want to be a superhero ass gave chase away from the mall and onto the interstate.
I remembered earlier that day being in my guidance counselor officer working on an application for a summer program when I went to WTVD’s website and I’d seen an article about a police officer shooting a Raleigh man after a police chase. However, I didn’t open the article because I simply didn’t care. However, little did I know that article was about my father’s death. Ironic, right? An article about one of the most important people in my life and I didn’t care. I mean maybe it’s best I didn’t read that article; maybe it was God protecting me. I really don’t know how I would’ve processed reading that information alone by myself at school.
My father wrecked the Honda Civic he was driving and this is where the details get sketchy. Officer Symmes says he and my father got into a fight. He says my father then got into his vehicle and his arm was caught in the seatbelt so he shot my father twice... in the head.
Although, the autopsy report was released long after my father’s death when I saw him in his casket at the viewing for the family I knew enough to know he’d been shot in the head. The man in that casket looked nothing at all like my father; he’d been disfigured by the slugs. To this day I wish I could not have looked at him one last time and just remembered him as he was. It is an image I cannot shake.
I could not turn to my friends because they were no help. One of my “friends” even said my dad died like a “gangsta” I was furious, I was in emotional turmoil, and they were joking. My father did not die like a gangsta; he died alone on the side of a roadway in Greensboro, NC with his brains blown out and no living person who could tell his side of the story. He left behind four children; two boys (Emile and Travis) and two girls (Ziyah and Ryan). I am the oldest of the four children. I was just four days shy of my 17th birthday when my father was killed. Thanks to Officer Symmes and his GPD-issued pistol instead of “turning up” for my birthday every year starting on January 26th until January 30th I quietly mourn in silence, thinking about what could’ve been. Thanks to those two bullets my father has missed my high school graduation (where I graduated with honors), my college graduation (where I graduated with honors), the birth of his first grandchild (my daughter, Ryleigh), and the many milestones of myself and my other siblings.
Dealing with my father’s death was already hard enough but he died in a public way. My cell phone was tapped and I received harassing phone calls. My father’s past criminal misdeeds (petty theft crimes) were trotted out in the comment sections of WTVD and WRAL as if they justified my father being tried and summarily executed on the side of the highway. Of course, the State Bureau of Investigation cleared the officer of all wrongdoing. My family decided not to pursue a civil lawsuit.
My father’s life ended on the side of a road with no one to tell his story. Officer Symmes’ life went on and as of my last Google search of his name he has risen through the ranks of Greensboro PD, no more rent-a-cop days for him because now he makes $53,000 annually. I remember when I lived in Greensboro I used to look at the badge of every Greensboro PD officer hoping it said SYMMES so I could spit in his face. I was willing to take that ass whooping or worse that bullet. The day my father was killed a new chapter in my life started. I knew that police brutality existed. I knew that police got away with crimes on a daily basis with impunity. But I never expected for it to hit so close to home and in such a violent way. I realized the justice system does care about me or the people who look like me.
I realized that even though I have zero criminal record; I don’t even have as much as a speeding ticket. But if an officer killed me killed today they would drudge up the fact that some of my friends have criminal records. Or they’d bring up the fact my father was killed by a cop. They would find something about me to absolve the police officer of all guilt and they’d try me in the media. I mean look at Tamir Rice, a 14 year old kid and the media was able to make him out to be some kind of villain. They’ll bring up those two fights I got into while in junior high. They always find some way to make us out to be “no angel” as they did with Michael Brown.
My father’s death was before the explosion of social media and hashtag activism. I’m sure that is his death would’ve occurred in 2012 and not 2008 the media and public response would’ve been much different. There are so many questions that eight years later I still do not have the answers to.
My father is dead and gone. I miss him very much because he was my biggest confidante and my best friend. I have come to terms with the fact I will not see justice for my father in the here and now. However, I live my life as a tribute to him. His memory lives on through my siblings and I. People can be killed. However, their memory will live on forever.
To be honest, I have given up hope on seeing any of these police officers that serve as judge, jury, and executioner being properly punished for their actions. As the saying goes, “A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.” Although black people are “free” in this country meaning we are no longer in the physical bondage of chattel slavery just read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and you will see we are not truly free.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t have any of the answers but something in this country has to change. Too much blood is being spilled onto the streets of America with no justice being served. For every name that becomes a hashtag, ten more do not.