In the past month, she said during a Let Our Kids Live rally held at her facility on Friday, APAC has hosted repasts for five families who have had to bury loved ones, many of them children like 3-year-old Mekhi James.
“I wish this event didn’t have to take place,” said Williams while standing on a makeshift stage setup in the parking lot of her facility.
She was surrounded by powerful Black elected officials, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who joined her in the sweltering humidity to plea with their communities to stop the shooting. At the rally, Preckwinkle also announced that the county was giving $5 million to fund an anti-violence effort.
Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, and Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player who is George Floyd’s close friend, followed the politicians’ polished remarks with much more blunt messages directed both at police officers who kill unarmed Black people and Black people who kill other Black people.
“We need help burying these babies!” Williams said. “COVID-19 is enough in itself, but to see all the killing taking place in our own community. It’s not the police — it’s us! This is Blacks killing Blacks!”
Williams spoke under an unsubtle backdrop that featured an image of 3-year-old Mekhi James dressed in a suit and standing at a podium bearing the seal of the President of the United States. Next to the photo, a message in bold red lettering accosted the crowd.
“Why did you shoot me? I wanted to live! I was going to be your next President!”
James was murdered on June 20 — Father’s Day weekend — in South Austin. According to police, he was riding in the back seat of a car with his 27-year-old father, Charles Morrison, when the shooting happened.
The day James was murdered, 13-year-old Amaria Jones was showing her mother dance moves inside of their South Austin home when a stray bullet lodged in her neck.
Natalie Wallace, 7, was fatally shot in South Austin while playing outside on the Fourth of July.
Williams said that she’s raised around $20,000 trying to bury the children. Some of the money has been used to help relocate family members haunted by the children’s deaths and fearing for their own lives.
“I can’t sleep thinking about them,” Williams said of the children she’s helped bury. “I see all of their faces every single night.”
Preckwinkle said on Friday that between Jan. 1 through July 22, there have been 459 gun homicides in Cook County.
“During that same period last year, there were 323 — that’s a 42 percent increase in gun homicide this year compared to last year,” she said. “And with roughly five months of the year left, we’re 125 gun homicides away from matching last year’s total. We cannot accept this as simply a way of life. We cannot continue to live this way and our children cannot continue to die this way.”
Preckwinkle added that the county will give $5 million to Communities Partnering for Peace — a coalition of organizations dealing with gun violence in roughly two dozen of Chicago’s most affected community areas, including Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale.
Vaughn Bryant, the executive director of the Communities Partnering for Peace, said that the funding will allow his organization to offer its services to more communities in the city deploy more resources to areas where it already has a presence.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (7th) said that he grew up in the area where the Austin Peoples Action Center is located.
“One of the greatest things that God has given us is life and it gets hard for us as Black people, but we can never give up,” Ford said. “And we don’t give up. We know the struggles that Black people have had in this country and we know the fight is alive.”
“I am pleading, I am pleading at this point with members of our community to just take a step back and recognize that there are so many people on this stage and all around this stage who care about you,” said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (4th).
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), a longtime supporter of Williams’ organization, said that “senseless gun violence is a wound that will never heal. The only way you heal those wounds is you get up and do something about it.”
“It’s truly our time,” said Craig Hodges, the Chicago area native and retired NBA player whose political activism and outspokenness on social justice issues, in a way presaged the current era of activism among athletes that is presently embodied by Colin Kaepernick.
“Y’all are seeing the deliverance of a people,” Hodges said.
Philonise Floyd and Jackson, who bears a striking resemblance to George Floyd, used Friday’s platform to lambaste violence by the police and by so-called “gangsters,” a term Jackson used derisively before turning it on its head.
“There are more important things going on in this world than a corner,” Floyd said, adding that “it’s a better way to prove our manhood” than gun violence.
“I’m tired — not just seeing my brother getting murdered for the world to see, but seeing kids getting murdered. Everybody is my brother. Every child is my little sister or my little brother … I’m putting everything on the line right now just so we can get treated like human beings and not f— animals.”
Jackson also decried the social conditions of places like the West and South sides that have become zones of violence.
“You have to develop the people,” he said. “You can’t get a heartbeat from a building.”
Jackson spoke against the notion of a “gangster” being someone who takes “a life that ain’t even lived yet” or kills others over disputes that don’t address much larger systemic injustices.
“They want you to kill each other … so they won’t have to do it,” Jackson said, before recruiting people into a much bigger battle.
“You not as gangster as you think! What we doing right now? That’s gangster,” Jackson said. “Putting my whole career and livelihood on the line? That’s gangster.”