“You heard ‘bout Big John?”
In 2018, I ventured to Alabama’s Black Belt to see how a hookworm epidemic only found in Third World countries had made its way to Lowndes County, Ala. While searching for someone who knew the community and its residents, everyone I spoke with pointed me in the direction of the beloved well-respected sheriff. He suggested that I meet him at the “filling station” (gas stations are designated meeting areas in the rural South) near the town square and the tall, fit lawman eventually introduced me to the individuals who would become the sources for that story.
On Sunday, I received a phone call informing me that Lowndes County Sheriff “Big” John Williams was killed at that same convenience store.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports:
About 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Williams was shot at the QV convenience store near the Lowndes County Courthouse on the downtown square in Hayneville. Law enforcement apprehended the suspect William Chase Johnson, 18, after a nearly four-hour search when he walked up to the shooting scene about 12:05 a.m. Sunday with a firearm in his hand and was taken into custody after the manhunt.
Johnson has been charged with murder, according to Elmore jail records. No bond has been set.
Williams approached the truck Johnson was driving and asked him why his music was so loud. That’s when allegedly Johnson shot Williams once in the head. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is investigating. ALEA wouldn’t comment Sunday afternoon on if Williams was in uniform at the time of the shooting, or if he was driving a marked or unmarked vehicle.
Williams’ alleged killer is the son of a law enforcement officer. The 18-year old was arrested at least once for possessing alcohol and brass knuckles.
The charges were dismissed.
Lowndes County is one of the blackest (75 percent African American) and poorest counties in America. In 1965, a civil rights worker named Stokely Carmichael heard that there wasn’t a single black registered voter in the blackest county in America. He organized the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and decided to make the group’s mascot something that could devour the white rooster used by segregationist George Wallace.
He chose the black panther.
The 64-year-old Williams had served the area for more than 40 years and his career encapsulated the hard-scrabble rural area known as “Bloody Lowndes County.” As chief deputy, Williams was the arresting officer for former Black Panther H. Rap Brown (also known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin), who was convicted of killing an Atlanta police officer in 2002. When the county’s previous sheriff passed away in 2010, Alabama’s governor appointed a white sheriff to fill the vacancy even though every law enforcement agency recommended Williams. Williams decided to run for the position and, in 2010, began his nine-year tenure as Lowndes’ County sheriff. In 2013, Williams and 29 other black Alabama leaders gathered at the Alabama statehouse and vowed to fight the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder ruling that dismantled the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is investigating the shooting and Johnson has been charged with murder, according to AL.com.
“Big John comes up and asks the young man about the loud music, just like he has done hundreds of times before,” explained Charles Benson, who reportedly witnessed the crime. “Big John don’t take no foolishness. That’s when he got shot. I don’t understand it. The sheriff is gone over loud music? It just don’t seem right.”