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A Black dog walker’s home in San Francisco was set on fire weeks after he reported receiving racially threatening packages. He was not home at the time of the fire Tuesday, but his parents were trapped upstairs and had to be rescued by firefighters.

Police said they are investigating the sending of the packages as hate crimes but have not identified a suspect. 

The walker, Terry Williams, said he found two packages, one April 26, the other May 5, at the row house he lives in with his parents that contained racist threats against him. 

“It was a plastic bag that had ‘Gangster,’ ‘thug’ and other negative words about Black people on it,’” Williams told KGO-TV, an ABC San Francisco affiliate. Inside the bag, he said, was a photo of him with racial epithets written on it and a stuffed doll with a noose around its neck and racist vitriol scrawled across it.

Williams was meeting with city leaders Tuesday to talk about the packages when he received a call about the fire.

Williams’ father, Luddie, 81, said his wife, Carolyn, 79, smelled smoke Tuesday morning, and before long the living room was an inferno.

“I don’t know what happened,” Luddie Williams told The San Francisco Standard, a digital news outlet. “I was just trying to get me and my wife the hell out of there.” The couple was taken to a hospital.

The bomb squad was called as a precaution, said Jonathan Baxter, captain of media affairs for the San Francisco Fire Department, concerning “an item within the fire building that is not associated with the fire or the investigation but did require being rendered safe.” Baxter added that the item was not necessarily a bomb but did not say what it was. 

The family has lived in the city’s Alamo Square neighborhood since the 1970s, making them somewhat unique. 

San Francisco’s Black residents and neighborhoods have been eroding for decades, as gentrification, exorbitant housing costs and other factors have pushed them to more affordable areas.

Since 1990, the percentage of Black San Franciscans has dropped from 10.9% to 5.7% in 2021, according to the U.S. census. And a 2020 San Francisco Human Rights Commission resolution indicated that Black people are the only ethnic group that has declined in the city every census since 1970.

The report also determined that Black people have the highest mortality rate in San Francisco, with nine of the top 10 causes of death. 

“I could see it coming,” Jackie Brown, a San Francisco native who relocated to Atlanta and then to Charlotte, North Carolina, more than a decade ago, told NBC News. “I didn’t leave because I was threatened, but I was not as comfortable in my own hometown as I had been. It’s become too expensive. But it’s also a feeling like we — Black people — are not wanted there, too.” 

Terry Williams told The Standard that he had experienced other racist incidents like name-calling as he walked his or his clients’ dogs in the neighborhood. But it escalated dramatically over the last few weeks.

Still, Williams and his family have garnered much support from the community. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $73,000 to “Help Terry Keep His Family Safe After Hate Crime.”

The president of the San Francisco NAACP, the Rev. Amos Brown, said the racist attacks on Williams should be a “tipping point” for the city. “More good people need to come aboard to make it uncomfortable for bad people.” 

Williams, who could not be reached for comment, told The Standard that he was resolute about one thing: “They want me to run,” he said. “I’m not going to run. My grandfather raised me better; my great-uncle and my dad taught me better than that. … It makes me stay and fight harder. I’m not going nowhere.”

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