Gruesome business this. “The fatal shooting of Howard Williams, 22, happened about 6:30 p.m. on a crowded South Philly block,” philly.com reports. “where at least 50 people were engaged in ‘an all-out water fight’ with squirt guns, hoses and balloons, Shanae Williams said. Gary, 26, and his girlfriend had driven to Hoffman Street near 19th to pick up the 8-year-old son he and Shanae Williams share custody of, she said. Their car windows were down and Gary’s girlfriend became enraged when Williams’ niece sprayed her with water, Williams said. An argument ensued between the women and then between Gary and Howard Williams, according to witnesses. Gary then went to his car, grabbed a handgun and shot Howard Williams in the neck at point-blank range, Shanae Williams said . . .
Howard Williams’ brother, Antwion “Demetrius” Strickland, 19, said he went to run to his fallen brother’s side, but Gary stood over Williams’ convulsing body and fired four more shots into his chest.
“When I seen the blood just squirting up in the air, I knew it was serious” Strickland said.
Until yesterday, Gary Williams was a Philadelphia cop. As you may have guessed, this wasn’t the first time ex-Officer Williams went off the rails.
[Gary’s estranged wife] said that in October, she and Gary had an argument that turned physical, and someone called her brother to help out.
“As soon as he seen my brother’s face, he said, ‘Back the f up’ and he pulled his badge,” Williams said. “Then he just pulled his gun out and started aiming it at everybody outside.”
She said police responded and Gary still had his gun drawn when they arrived. He fell to his knees and identified himself as a cop, she said.
Diane Williams, Shanae and Howard’s mother, said that was the moment when Gary should have been kicked off the force.
“They knew from that police report what he had done. Why was he still allowed to be a cop? Why?” she asked.
philly.com points out that the City of Brotherly Love has a bit of a rep for not performing police shooting investigations in a timely manner (i.e., stretching them out). The head of Philly’s po-po response to the Williams on Williams shooting did little to counter public opinion that there’s one rule for police, and another for everyone else—especially when it comes to lethal force.
“Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said the incident was “tragic for the family that lost a loved one, and certainly the officer, whose entire career and now life, for that matter, are forever changed.”
As an old friend used to say, my heart pumps piss for you. Then again, maybe not. At the tail end of the article, we learn that Williams is an ex-Marine who’d served on the force for “less than a year.” Perhaps Williams suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Which wouldn’t excuse the police from culpability; it’s their job to screen candidates for mental health issues prior to providing the inductee with a badge and a firearm. (It’s not known whether Williams used his police pistol for this shooting.)
It’s also the police department’s responsibility to remove that gun from an officer when they have reason to suspect that one of their own has lost the sense of judgement needed to perform his or her duties safely.
As with most tragedies involving “the man,” there’s plenty of room for some major league finger pointing. Don’t get me started about police unions . . . At the risk of seeming heartless, my takeaway is this: as long as people have guns, there will be unintended consequences. Collateral damage.
I believe the benefits to society outweigh the risks of not having armed law enforcement and, yes, armed civilians. But this horrible story is a cautionary tale. It tells us that even the best and/or best-intentioned licensing procedures can not protect society from good guys gone bad. The sooner the police and pro-gun advocates understand and accept this fact, the sooner they/we can develop effective interventions. Actions that prevent some, but by no means all, or even most, gun-related violence.