After racist attacks, peace rally brings Fillmore together

peace-gathering-mayor-breed-terry-williams-052424, After racist attacks, peace rally brings Fillmore together, Featured News & Views
Terry Williams speaks to longtime neighbors outside his family’s recently burned out home. Mayor London Breed, left, gave remarks, along with Fillmore Collaborative’s Howard Smith, far right. — Photo: Griffin Jones

by Griffin Jones

On Friday afternoon, under patchy gray skies, heads were bowed and arms raised at an intimate peace gathering outside the burned out remains of local dog walker Terry Williams’ family home at Grove and Fillmore Streets.

The gathering included words from Mayor London Breed and a prayer service, led by Rev. Ishmael Burch, and a discussion on next steps for the Williams family and the local community following a fire this past Tuesday that left the two-story house in ruins and led to the hospitalization of Terry’s parents, Carolyn, 79, and Luddie, 82. Both were inside at the time of the fire.

Though no connection has been proven, it is widely believed that the fire is the latest in a string of targeted racist threats against Terry in the form of packages on his doorstep after midnight on April 26 and then again on May 5. The packages included a noose, KKK paraphernalia and blackface dolls covered in racial slurs and threats on Terry’s life.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, May 24, roughly 20 neighbors came together in support of the Williams family. Most had known Terry, 49, their whole lives — and this afternoon was for them. One former neighbor, Donnie, laughed as he leaned down, holding his hand at his knee to show how small he and Terry were when they met. 

In the several days after the fire that burned down his home, Terry is feeling more energized and ready to handle his family’s needs. But he and his sister, Letisha Williams-Humphrey, who lives in Bayview, are still reeling from days of little sleep and fear for their family.

“I’m back walking dogs today,” said Terry, petting a sleepy gray pit bull in his charge. 

“And my mom’s just asking about everyone else, naming all the neighbors, seeing if they’re ok.” He shook his head, smiling. “I’m like, mom, this is about you! We’re all worried about you!”

Mayor London Breed, who grew up close by, attended the gathering, along with members of the Fillmore Collaborative, a group of business owners and residents who work to keep wealth in the local Black community.

A couple of young women born and raised down Grove Street walked up the hill to join the group. They listened and mingled, adding flyers titled “The Black Code” to the dozens of supportive notes that blanketed the Williams’ boarded up garage doors.

williams-family-home-after-fire-052424-600x800, After racist attacks, peace rally brings Fillmore together, Featured News & Views
“The love is going to outweigh the hate. It’s gonna push out all the hate,” said Howard Smith of the Fillmore Collaborative. — Photo: Griffin Jones

“This needs to be where Juneteenth is this year,” said Tia, a young woman with pink and purple braids. Gesturing to Terry’s boarded up home, Tia’s friend, Danielle Cortez, a youth probation officer, spoke to the concern spreading around the Fillmore. 

“It’s unfair in a lot of ways — everybody here is so friendly; for this to happen, it’s just bad. Hopefully some light will be shed.”

Some present speculated that gentrification helped create the conditions for overt racism like attacks on the Williamses. Starting in 1953, bulldozers tore through the proudly Black Western Addition under the city’s Redevelopment Agency, citing “blight” and “overcrowded” conditions and razing hundreds of Victorian homes that housed generations of families. Over 10,000 people were displaced from their homes.

Today, the Black community that has stayed in the city is holding strong and working hard to build back up. 

The Williams family is one of a handful of Black homeowners remaining in the area, but the fire destroyed all of what they had: photographs, food, clothing, dog leashes, medicine, soap. 

Several GoFundMes for Terry, Carolyn and Luddie have earned over $200,000 combined. But the future remains uncertain. In the meantime, the family and their dogs are relying on donated clothes and food to stay afloat. 

Intended or not, the effect of these racist attacks is further displacement: As of Tuesday, the Department of Public Health has put the Williamses up in a hotel outside city limits.

Howard Smith, a lifelong Fillmore resident and leader of the Fillmore Collaborative, agreed that long-term gentrification could have played a role in the recent attacks on the Williams family.

support-notes-williams-family-home-052424, After racist attacks, peace rally brings Fillmore together, Featured News & Views
Love notes from around the city blanket the Williams’ garage. — Photo: Griffin Jones

“The mayor wants to put a team together to watch the neighborhood. The whole community’s been talking about this. The whole city. People are angry right now.”

Terry thanked the mayor and neighbors for their support in the last few weeks. Amid claims from locals that Breed hasn’t been helping out or speaking up, he took the opportunity to clear the air. 

“I don’t always speak with my friends,” said Terry. “I keep things to myself. My bad for not letting y’all know, but [Mayor Breed] has been doing a lot for us, so get off her back.” 

One man spoke up: “That’s the part I want to hear — that she’s helping you. I didn’t know before.”

“It’s not for the public to know what she’s doing for us,” responded Letisha, standing next to Terry. “This is us; this is our story. This is about my mom and my dad. And my kids, not having a grandparents’ home to go to after school.” Terry murmured in agreement.

“I’m so happy to see so many of you from the neighborhood here,” said Mayor Breed to the group. “I met Terry when I was — 11? On this block. A lot of people have gone from this neighborhood in different ways. And he’s been here.

“This is a long journey, and we have all of our investigators from the police to the fire department on every inch of this,” said the mayor. “It’s not my responsibility as mayor — it’s my responsibility as a member of this community and as a friend to show [the Williams family] love, to show them support, and do everything I can within my reach to lift them up.” 

She ended with a reminder: “Even when I’m no longer mayor, I’m still London Breed from Fillmo’.”

Terry’s father, Luddie, 82, was brought back from the hospital the evening of May 21, after receiving care for moderate burns. His mother, Carolyn, 79, whose wounds were more severe, was released Friday evening, May 24. 

As the gathering went on, multiple Black families in cars drove by the site, stopping to take pictures of the house and wave. Many, some walking their own dogs, came up to Terry and offered a place to stay. “I can’t leave my mom,” he told them adamantly. “But thank you.”

Griffin Jones is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. She formerly worked at Mission Local, the San Francisco Bay View and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She can be reached at