The murder of 32-year-old Brandon D. Williams, who was shot to death by an unknown assailant outside his family home on Evans Street on Feb. 4, continues to roil his neighborhood. Unfortunately, too much of the outrage stirred by the atrocity has centered on the actions of one of his neighbors, City Councillor-at-Large Julia Mejia, instead of on the unknown person(s) who took his life.
On the night of the incident, Mejia filmed the scene outside of her home and livestreamed it on Facebook. She later took down her video, posted a non-graphic photo, and added a mournful statement about the murder.
Mejia came under intense criticism for her earlier response, particularly from LiveBoston, an organization that responds to crime scenes and posts images and information online. It alleged that Mejia was uncooperative with police on the scene. Relatives of the victim and other members of the community at-large also scolded Mejia for the lack of judgment and sensitivity she had shown by posting apparently unfiltered images from the scene. (The Reporter has not seen the video.)
Mejia quickly apologized via her social media feed: “I responded first as a mother, as a neighbor, and wasn’t thinking about being a city councillor. I responded in a way that if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it…I also know the impact on those that were exposed to it. I apologize for that. I reached out to the family and apologized for the hurt that it caused.”
Mejia’s misstep and the subsequent backlash should challenge all of us to re-think how violence and trauma impact our neighborhood— and consider how we react ourselves. Large parts of Dorchester— multiple thousands of our neighbors— have been victimized over and over again for decades by sustained acts of violence that, like the murder of Brandon William (to date), remain unsolved.
This is where the true outrage should be centered: There are murderers in our midst walking free— and not just the killer or killers of Brandon Williams, who, by all accounts, was “a beautiful soul,” as described by his family in a statement issued the day of his funeral last Saturday.
How is one supposed to react when a person is gunned down on your street?
Are we supposed to seal ourselves off in our kitchen or living room, put aside our smartphones, and speak of it no more, but for the rote messages of condolence and thoughts and prayers?
Or should we venture out, engage with neighbors, share the news and express our outrage that someone has been slain on our block?
In our collective rush to indict Mejia for her decision, have we stopped to ask ourselves why anyone in this neighborhood should have to make such a horrible decision?
It’s a fine line, particularly for an elected official. But who draws that line? Mejia did not seek out an act of violence to populate her social media platforms. The murderer(s) came to her front stoop. Had they not— and had she not posted an ill-advised video in that moment— would we still even be writing and talking about the killing of Brandon Williams? The truth is: It’s unlikely we would.
Black and brown Bostonians account for most of the murder victims in this city and their deaths are succinctly recorded and, most often, forgotten about in quick succession. In many instances, the cases turn cold before a week can pass.
Perhaps an unintended consequence of the councillor’s roundly condemned error will be to keep the cause of justice in Brandon Williams’s murder at the center of our attention. Maybe, in this case, it will be different.