“It was racially motivated,” says Tommy Williams, whose home was set on fire and the N-word spray painted on his patio.
Williams, 59, is a part of the Connersville, Indiana City Council and is the only Black member. The city is about 65 miles east of Indianapolis and has a population of 12,796 with 94 percent being white, 3.9 percent Black.
Williams captured video on his cell phone of the aftermath of the fire set early Friday morning on Oct. 29. The video shows most of his home covered in smoke and soot with the most severe damage in his bedroom.
“The bedroom windows were knocked out, the top and the bottom and they [firefighters] believe someone threw something in there,” said Williams. The family dog and cat were killed in the fire. Williams, his wife, and sons were not home the morning it caught fire. Williams says someone spray painted the N-word on the back patio.
The councilmember grew up in Selma, Alabama, and has lived in Connersville for 20 years. He says while the city is predominantly white, he would not consider racial issues to be a major problem. “Ninety-nine percent of this community is not racist, but you’ve got that one percent that wants to tear down the whole community,” he said.
As the investigation continues into the cause of the fire and potentially who started it, Williams shares of what he considers a strange occurrence that happened two weeks before the fire: A passerby yelled a racial slur outside his bedroom window.
“They yelled out the car, Black n—-r. I looked out the window and I see the car and thought, man, I’ve seen that car somewhere before,” he said.
Williams says although he does not consider the city’s white population racist, he has noticed white youth flippantly using the N-word. He says both of his sons have been called the N-word at their high school.
“My kids, we don’t use the n-word, I don’t use the n-word, my wife doesn’t use the n-word so that bothered me,” said Williams, who points the finger at rap and hip-hop music for kids’ usage of the N-word.
“These kids do use the N-word because they’re constantly listening to all this rap music. Do I believe they’re racist? I don’t want to be naïve but it’s hard to say because a lot of these kids I’ve coached in basketball, soccer, football,” he said.
As of this report, no arrests have been made in the case, but the FBI, alongside state and local officials, is investigating the root cause to the fire.
The City of Connersville issued a statement, calling the fire a “disgustingly heinous racially motivated attack” and went on to say, “the citizen of Connersville cannot and will not tolerate this ugly attack on our community.”
Williams says the community has been largely supportive of him and his family. The city is accepting donations to support the Williams family to help cover the costs associated with rebuilding from the fire.