A New Year’s Eve tradition turned tragic after an Ohio police officer shot and killed 46-year-old James R. Williams a few minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day.
According to The Canton Repository, four-minute body-camera footage showed the officer shooting through a wooden fence multiple times after Williams fired his AR-15 in the air. The cop didn’t identify himself or issue a warning before shooting his weapon.
After shooting through the fence, the officer reportedly said, “Shots fired, shots fired. Police! Get down now! Police! Get down now!”
Williams observed the unspoken tradition by shooting his rifle in the air to celebrate 2022’s arrival, his wife, Marquetta Williams, said.
Then, out of the blue, her husband was showered with bullets through their 6-foot-tall security fence.
“I don’t know where it came from. Nobody said anything,” she said. “They didn’t say, ‘Police.’ They didn’t say, ‘Freeze.’ They didn’t say, ‘Drop your weapon.’ They just shot him.”
Williams wasn’t the only person shooting celebratory gunfire in the air. His wife said that neighbors also participated in the tradition to commemorate the beginning of a new year. Their daughters were in the living room watching the ball drop when the couple walked into their backyard to celebrate. Williams even stayed to shoot a few more rounds after their neighbors went back inside. Moments later, after the police officer shot him, Mrs. Williams followed him back into the house where he told her, “I’ve been shot.” It was then that she noticed blood on his chest.
The New Year shooting ritual dates back to colonial and antebellum times in the U.S., specifically North Carolina. The tradition began with Germans settlers in N.C. who shot their rifles in the air at midnight on New Year’s Day. As they shoot in the air, a designated shouter yells “Halloo” and then chants to notify friends and family members who are still in the house. It was believed that the gunshots would ward away evil spirits. Afterward, they walk back inside for a holiday meal.
As such, Williams was simply following a long-held tradition.
The stay-at-home dad leaves behind four daughters, ages nine to 15, and two stepdaughters.
Williams was a Detroit native who studied criminal justice at the University of Akron in Ohio. An avid sports lover, he was a massive fan of his hometown teams, the Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Lions. His extensive hat collection proved this, boasting many caps emblazoned with the famous teams’ logos.
“He didn’t deserve to die like this at all,” said one of his children, Ja’Lia Williams. His family held a candlelight vigil for him in Canton on Wednesday, Jan. 5.
“He’s going to be dearly missed. He shouldn’t have died the way that he did. I just want justice for him,” said Mrs. Williams.
Community activist Sierra Mason expressed her outrage about the tragic killing at Williams’ vigil.
“We’re mourning another Black man for doing the same thing white folks were doing,” she said. “It makes me sick.”