Web Stories Tuesday, June 25

Terry Williams, the Black dog walker whose home was burned Tuesday morning, told NBC News that the fire that has left him and his parents homeless came after 14 years of racist attacks.

“This has been going on since I started my business,” Williams, 49, said. “I have been called the N-word and other racist terms ever since I’ve walked my dogs or clients’ dogs in the park. At a certain point, it gets to be too much. That’s where we are now.”

The San Francisco Police Department has not identified a suspect in the fire. Previously, the department said it was investigating the sending of packages that contained racist threats against Williams to his home as hate crimes but has not identified a suspect in that case either, or whether they are related. 

Williams said he found two packages, on April 26 and May 5, at the row house he lived in with his parents. 

@SFFDPIO / via X

One package was in a plastic bag with the words “gangster,” “thug” and other negative terms about Black people on it. Inside that bag, he told ABC San Francisco affiliate  KGO-TV, 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 told NBC News Wednesday night that he had also received three postcards that were laced with racist epithets against him.

“A lot of people in San Francisco do not like other people, Black people. It’s evident,” he said. “This is supposed to be liberal California, but I’ve experienced a lot of just wild racism. I try to be myself, to speak to people on the street and to be happy. But after so many years of being called the N-word while walking dogs, it wears you down. 

“Now, look at this: We don’t have a house anymore. Everything we had in that house is gone now. And for what? Because I’m Black? It’s ridiculous. It’s sad. Racism has never really left. It’s prevalent as ever. This is about my family and my life, and I take that seriously.”

His parents, 79 and 81, were at home when the fire began. Firefighters had to rescue his parents from the second and third floors, according to a fire department spokesperson. Williams said his mother spent a few days in the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation, and his father sustained burns to his head.

“It has been bad, but you never expect to get your home burned down,” Williams said. “We have to start over.” 

Since the fire, Williams said he has received dozens of letters and notes that are plastered on the boarded-up garage doors of his torched home. The notes tell him to not move and keep his head up. Other notes condemn the racism he has faced all these years. 

Neighbors post supportive notes on the boarded up exterior Terry Williams’ home
Katrina Queirolo

“It helps, people letting me know they care, man. It helps mentally. It really shut me down for a second. Without that, I don’t think I’d be able to survive this,” Williams said. “There are some cool people, people from all ethnic backgrounds, who are really supporting us. They are showing that there are some good people out here who care about people.”

Williams said he has appreciated the outpouring of help and solidarity he has received from neighbors in his multiethnic community. A community supporter, Katrina Queirolo, launched the “Support Terry’s Family Rebuild After Fire” campaign on GoFundMe to help the Williams family. 

“We are grateful,” he said. “It’s not everyone here that’s racist. But there are enough to make life hell for some people. I don’t know why that is the case. I don’t bother anyone. I just walk dogs as a Black man in an area where white people live. And they hold that against me. It’s sad.”

Terry Williams
Katrina Queirolo

Moreover, Williams said his business began falling off a few years ago because of constant “false complaints” about him and his three Rottweilers “who are trained and disciplined. They have not attacked anyone’s dog or any person.” He said he used to walked up to 14 dogs a day. Now, he’s down to five.

He recalled asking a white friend to stay with him to verify to police that his dogs had not attacked anyone else’s dog. 

“I told him, ‘If you leave here, I’m going to jail.’ He didn’t believe me. I told him that if a white lady calls the cops on a Black man, you’re guilty until proven innocent here. He said, ‘OK, I got you, brother.’”

He called parks in San Francisco the “last haven for white people — and some don’t want others in there.” 

But Williams, buoyed by the support of many in the community, said he plans to stay. 

“Friends have told me to just move or don’t walk dogs in the park.’” he said. “But I’m not going anywhere. My father was in the Army; he taught me to fight. These people doing racist things may have won the battle so far. But they haven’t won the war. I’m going to fight.”

Read the full article here


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