Grace McKinnon and the black man she saved, Anthony Williams.
Photo: courtesy of Grace McKinnon

It seems as though the number of black men killed at the hands of police increases by at least one every day. The stories have become so commonplace as to somewhat desensitize the public to their occurrence.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, at approximately 3:30 p.m., one story that could have ended with that same narrative was changed by the brave actions of one black woman—24-year-old Grace McKinnon.

McKinnon is a licensed graduate social worker who was on her way back to her office after visiting the client of a colleague at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., when she said she noticed a confrontation occurring between U.S. Capitol Police officers and a homeless man by the name of Anthony Williams.

She immediately stopped her car, got out and began recording.

“I knew I had to help,” McKinnon told The Root. “I saw it happen. I had to get involved.”

Grace McKinnon recorded the moments when she saved a black man from dying at the hands of police.

Her video recording, which has since gone viral, begins at the moment she approached the situation in the intersection.

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As her recording begins, a police officer can be seen with his service weapon trained on Williams. He notices McKinnon and says in a pleading voice, “You see him trying to shoot me? I ain’t done nothing to nobody.”

The officer commands Williams to get down on the ground. Williams is obviously very agitated and seems to be having a mental break of sorts. Throughout the entire video, McKinnon speaks with him calmly and pleads with him to obey the officer’s commands.

“They are killing us out here,” she tells him. “It’s not worth dying over, bruh.”

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The officer at one point tells McKinnon she should move away from Williams because he has a knife. Williams tells the officer that they already confiscated the one knife that he had, and this seems to be corroborated in the video where at one point, the knife can be seen lying in the crosswalk.

McKinnon told The Root that, at one point, Williams stood behind her, making her the barrier between himself and the police.

“In that moment, it was fight or flight,” she said. “I wasn’t focused on guns or knives. It was a matter of getting that young man to get down on the ground and comply with police.”

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Eventually, McKinnon is able to get Williams to calm down and comply. He can be seen in the video lying down on his stomach and placing his hands behind his back. He was handcuffed and arrested.

McKinnon said police then asked her to leave once they had Williams in custody.

Although the U.S. Capitol Police said in its official statement that Williams was in possession of several knives, McKinnon said she never saw police retrieve any other knives and none were removed from Williams in her presence.

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Her observation seems to be somewhat corroborated by the charges U.S. Capitol Police reported—Williams only received one weapons charge.

The U.S. Capitol Police statement is as follows:

At approximately 3:40 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7, 2018, a United States Capitol Police (USCP) Officer observed an individual matching the description of a lookout issued by the Metropolitan Police Department for a man with a large knife.

The USCP Officer attempted to stop the Suspect, but he was agitated and uncooperative and began walking away toward the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Second Street, NE. The Officer commanded the Suspect to stop, but instead the Suspect drew a knife and turned toward the Officer. The Officer drew his service weapon and commanded the Suspect to drop the knife. The Suspect eventually complied with the Officer’s commands, but continued to walk away. The Officer continued to give multiple commands to stop as the Suspect dropped several more knives onto the ground. The Suspect ultimately complied with the Officer’s commands and was placed under arrest and transported to USCP Headquarters for processing.

The Suspect was charged with Assault on a Police Officer While Armed; Carrying a Dangerous Weapon; and Possession of a Prohibited Weapon.

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McKinnon, who is also a violin player with a master’s degree from Howard and a bachelor’s degree from Salisbury University, told The Root that the gravity of the entire situation has not hit her yet.

“It still really hasn’t dawned on me how big this was,” she said. “I have never done that before—stood in front of a gun—but I am always out here trying to help people. It may be amazing and heroic to others, but I was just being myself. Given a fight or flight situation, I always fight.”

McKinnon said once Williams was in custody, she went back to her car.

“I was in shock and started crying as I drove off,” she said.

She said she could relate to Williams’ plight because she has been homeless herself.

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Williams, who has been homeless for two years, was profiled earlier this year in a YouTube video in which he explained his situation and how he became homeless after his mother died from colon cancer. He sleeps in D.C.’s Union Station.

“When it comes to instances like this where we have an option to do something, always do what you can,” McKinnon said. “This was a decision I made in a direction of love. It has to be aligned with love. The more we can see ourselves in others, the more we can unite.”

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“I do this for my brother,” she added. “He died by suicide. I saw my brother in him [Williams]. I saw my brother in him. That’s what my brother wants me to do. I have not just a moral obligation, but a spiritual obligation as well.”

Not all heroes wear capes.