Dennis Willis: Insult After Injury. Who will speak up for Us!?

By Robert Lilly | May 1, 2012

“Abilene Police Shoots suspect/ man aimed gun at officer”… That’s what the headlinesread from the Abilene Reporter news precisely one year ago. On the date of April 13, Dennis L. Willis was shot to death in the evening hours while trapped in a back yard, trying to escape detection by the APD. Dennis’ death in the light of the events surrounding Mark Zimmerman the infamous shooter of Trayvon Martin, make any intelligent discussion about community violence difficult. Difficult does not, however, equal impossible. I propose that there are so many issues that extend from this incident that it demands our attention as a community to both help this family get answers and to hold leadership accountable that purports to be leadership in the area of justice issues in specific.{{more}}He was 20 years old and a youth who had not yet begun to live his life. Cut down, he leaves behind a daughter and a very large family to mourn his loss. Dennis, on April 13, was shot at 11:45pm and died on the 14th at 12:33am. His family was notified of his death at 3:00am. The time frame in between the shooting, his hospitalization and the notification of the family were lengthy; the family has concerns about that. Who will speak up for us?Dennis, according to his family, was not a gang member, nor had he ever been convicted of a crime; however, from news coverage it would be questionable if he were or not, it seemed to imply he was both. Where was the alternative message? Why didn’t the family’s story come out? Who will speak up for us?He was shot twice, according to official documents, once in the arm, which severed the arm and once in the neck; however, the hospital records document him as dying from bleeding out. Who was with him at the hospital? What took so long to notify the family? Questions that deserve some answers, real civil rights leadership or socially conscious religious leadership would be asking them. Who will speak up for us?My motivation is to instigate action on the part of a silent population.Silence, that is at this time a hindrance to justice. Dennis’ legacy demands of us, both you and I, to speak up for him but also to speak up for the numerous other lives just like his that are in need of a listening heart and a raised voice.Just recently the family of Mr. Willis decided to break that silence by commemorating his life and their loss; they hosted a vigil for Dennis at the Arthur Sears ParkI left this event with a renewed commitment to real leadership. We need a leadership that won’t flinch from standing up and out for justice. A leadership that is not afraid to have contact with common people or to speak truth to power. Dennis’ death can be our reason to rise to this occasion. We remembered him as a sweet and caring young man who played video games, basketball at G.V. Daniels Recreation Center and made people laugh. But he also had a difficult family history to live with. Father incarcerated almost all of his life. Mother wrestling with addiction issues. Moving from residence to residence to find stability. When I spoke to his family they told me he was the family babysitter. It is no wonder, with a childhood as challenged as his that he would want as much time with the kids as possible. I want you to never forget our loss, a human life snuffed out way too young. What makes this incident even more intolerable is the insult that has been added to this injury. In October 2011, the Grand Jury returned a No Bill with respect to the shooting. Those who were involved were investigated and absolved of any blame for his shooting and death. We contend that this, although done according to the system’s rules, has flaws in it from a community standpoint. The community, the family, never had adequate leadership to aid them in this most grueling moment of their family history. Who should have spoken up for them? We have to explore this question and the questions that are drawn from this entire saga. Dennis can’t speak from the grave but we can while alive, can’t we? What will we say?I think we should plaster his face on the walls of our minds, just as his image was emblazoned on the shirts of family members at the funeral, because although it happened to his family, it could have happened to your son. I know we think that this could never be the case but that is our fundamental error in logic. We have forgotten the past.In fact, we rarely ever publicly speak of it.I would think with all the people who follow the example of Christ here in Abilene, Texas we should have somebody who is willing to stand up and address the Pontius Pilates of our age.Where are those with a voice who will speak up, intelligently with knowledge and love for the people?Weas a people can do more than we are doing now to stand by each other in such times as this. Injustices to a community are like termites to a house, in time you will go to lean upon the wall and the entire structure will collapse. Who will begin to speak up?It would be foolhardy on our part to wait for the next incident to occur before we decided to take a collective social action. I propose that since June is the month wherein freedom for African Americans is highlighted through Juneteenth, and July is the American Independence Day therein we should prepare to meet and to discuss what reasonable course of action should be taken to address the social injustices inherent in this case.For example: why was the family notified so late? Why weren’t they ever informed of a grand jury proceeding? Who should be responsible for getting this information to a victimized, suffering family? What role should the NAACP play in such cases as these? How can they be held accountable to do what their mission statements dictates? Are the ministers of churches a source for help? Are these not reasonable questions that must be asked?A community cannot function without such clarity.We plan to have a gathering in the midst of both of these celebratory seasons: Juneteenth and the Fourth of July.We will announce more information in the June.I want to make a special appeal to the young adults; you are the leaders of today! Stop waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and christen you as such. Stand up for what you believe-right now! Let’s lead our community into a new era, one characterized by unity, solidarity and commitment to integrity. Let’s seek justice for Dennis Willis and for all otherunfortunates in our society today. Will You or will you not be the one to speak up?