Lead Story West Edition

Damian Williams speaks of Reginald Denny and redemption

Damian Monroe “Football” Williams never intended to make history. But he did want to make a name for himself in South Los Angeles.

As a boy, Williams would sit on his porch and watch the happenings on 71st Street, between Florence and Raymond avenues. What he saw was the swagger of a “brotherhood” bound by secrets, flashy cars and fast cash.

Eventually the high school football star ventured off the porch to get a closer look.

“I wanted a part of [it.] So, I joined a gang … which I thought was everything — and it took me on a real rough journey in life.”

The journey started with an initiation to the Eight Tray-Gangster Crips, a South Los Angeles gang renowned nationwide for its ruthlessness.

“It was like a job. I got up every morning, pressed my clothes and I went out to be the best at it,” Williams said.

On April 29, 1992, the 18-year-old’s mob persona took center-stage and played a notorious role at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues.

It was three hours after the Rodney King verdict, in which a Simi Valley jury found four white Los Angeles police officers not guilty of the brutal beating of Rodney King, a black man.

Williams threw a brick, striking Reginald Denny, a white man, in the head after rioters pulled Denny from his truck. They beat him senseless.

A news helicopter captured the scene, making Williams infamous.

Williams went to jail for the Denny beating, was released and, like so many other young men from South Los Angeles, returned to jail.

Twenty-five years later, he talked by phone with Billie Jordan, a contributing writer for The Wave, who he has known since they were teenagers.

Here is that interview:

Question: It’s been 25 years. Can you believe it’s been that long?

Answer: Yes, because it seems like it was just a few years ago that I was 18 and all that took place. But it shows how time has flown by so fast and really things are still the same.

Q: Can you tell me what happened that day?

A: When the verdict came, I was on what we call the south side of our neighborhood … and we was all sitting outside and our elder lady came out and spoke about the verdict; that the officers were found not guilty and then it was a little bit of chitter chatter at that time.

And then I ended up going back to my residence, which was on 71st between Normandie and Raymond. And when I pulled up, it was a group of individuals out there [and] that was the topic … the Rodney King verdict.

And you know, there was some very unpleasant words being spoken at the particular time, and then that’s when all the individuals, about 20 to 30 people, started migrating towards Normandie and 71st and when they got up there, you know people was on Florence there was a commotion going on I would assume somebody had called the police because of their presence. The police had made their way to 71st and Normandie and the exchange between the LAPD and the people of the community was very, very heated.

Some of the officers grabbed a young guy and threw him over the gate. And they grabbed another individual ’cause he was trying to help the young guy that [they] threw over the gate and knocked him down on the ground.

So, the masses of the people were really upset — speaking profanity to the officers and the officers were telling the community to calm down, but at that particular time the rage and the anger was so intense that the police saw that it was going to go bad.

So, instead of the police bringing calm to the community, one of the officers made a comment: let’s all move out and all the officers jumped in their cars and they drove off.

So, what you did – you left a very intense situation; a mob of people standing on 71st and Normandie was upset about the verdict and all that anger, all that frustration was right there at the intersection.

Q: Does that mean something was already going on before what happened with you and Reginald Denny?

A: Correct. … I was very displeased by the verdict, based on me having firsthand dealings with the Los Angeles police and all the injustice that was taking place within our community, all the police brutality that was taking place in our community.

People being apprehended and sent to jail on false allegations. So, it was an accumulation of me being frustrated, me being upset, me being angry. It was like a toxic bomb was inside of my mind and at that particular time I was saying to myself how can we get some get back from what’s been happening to us all these years in South Central.

Damian Williams as he looks today.

Q: At the time you thought somebody had to pay and the police were gone and so…

A: I can’t really say somebody had to pay, because it was a chaotic situation. So, I can say at that young age I was just following the flow of things. What I saw other people doing, I was doing; engaging in the same conduct that the masses of the people were engaging in. From the screaming, from the throwing, from the tears, from the pain. Everything that they were going through, I was in the same flow with the masses of the people.

Q: Do you think that if you had it to do again, would you be involved in that way?

A: No. I believe me, knowing what I know now, there’s various ways that you can fight the system and one way to fight the system is with the ink pen — that’s why laws are made to change oppressive conditions. That’s why we have local congressmen and congresswomen that we can vote in to govern our district and get things done that’s beneficial to the community and bring in a peaceful resolution to the law enforcement, as well as those in the community.

Q: So how do you feel about Reginald Denny. Do you feel remorse about your participation in what happened with him?

A: I wouldn’t believe remorse is the appropriate word. … Do I feel what occurred to Mr. Denny was justified? No.

Q: Can you say more?

A: It’s really not more to say and that’s just my humble opinion on that topic. Because if I was to say more, than we would go into a different part of this conversation — talking about going back into my history. It’s a lot of things that happened to my people by the hands of Mr. Denny’s nationality. But can I blame Mr. Denny for what happened to my people? No. Will I look to them and ask them for remorse, no. How can we heal from this process? How can we heal from that situation?

Q: So he was like a casualty of war?

A: There were many people that were a casualty. Mr. Denny just stands out. It was many people hurt and died in that 1992 situation. But those people are not spoken about. Only things that’s spoken about is Florence and Normandie. But people died, people were killed in the ’92 riots. Why are their names not being mentioned? Why is nobody not speaking about them? Because don’t nobody care about that. Because in the world that we live in, if it bleeds it sells.

Mr. Denny blood was spilled in South Central in a majority black populated community and he happened to be of European descent. So that’s why people felt a certain way about that situation. But I feel that the whole entire rebellion in 1992 — there were no winners, there were no losers. It was a situation that took place that brought about a negative situation that I wish we could have went about it — all of us: black, white, Mexican, every nationality – could have went about it differently.

Q: What was your relationship with Henry Watson, Antoine Miller and Gary Williams — who has your same last name — at the time?

A: Antoine was my childhood friend, he was my best friend. Someone that holds dear to my heart as he’s no longer here, and he lives through me. Gary and Kiki/Henry … they were older than me and you know, I had a great deal of respect and love for them. And my dealings with them throughout my life since I’ve known them — it’s always been a dealing of peace and a dealing of love.

Q: So you were arrested and charged exactly with what?

A: Attempted murder, aggravated mayhem and torture.

Q: Was it the same day as the riots?

A: No, I got arrested three weeks later.

Q: And how long did you serve?

A: I ended up doing a total of six years and 11 months.

Q: Then what happened? How many years were you on the streets and what were you doing?

A: I was free for three years. I had got a job working for [Congresswoman] Maxine Waters as a peer counselor. She had a community center off of 88th and Normandie and I was hired on as a peer counselor to deal with the underprivileged youth.

Q: How did you help them?

A: Helped them with life skills; helping them learn how to budget money, showing them how to do a resume, showing them how to fill out job applications. It varies.

Q: You were following a script for what they would have you do, basically?

A: Correct.

Damian Williams as he looked when he won on trial in 1992.

Q: So then you were arrested again?

A: That’s a topic that I’m not willing to talk about based on I’m still dealing with legal issues regarding the situation.

Q: I want to talk about where you’re from and how that informed who you became and your circumstances.

A: Yeah, I grew up in South Central. I grew up in a community that once was a pleasant community but then it has been overrun by gangs and drugs, and it has transformed a lot of good people into bad people. Me, being at a tender age … I was able to sit on the porch and see a lot of things taking place. I became curious and my curiosity took me off the porch and took me to the streets. And when I went to the streets I seen a certain lifestyle that I liked because it was flashy cars, it was money, it was status and so I wanted a part of that. So I gravitated towards that and I joined a gang at a very young age which I thought was everything at the particularly time, and it took me on a real rough journey in life.


Q: So you looked up to the older guys who were around you?

A: Correct.

Q: And those guys just happened to be gang affiliates.

A: I looked up to the street hustler. I looked up to the gang members. I looked up to the old heads that I would sit down with at the liquor stores; they would share their wisdom with me. So you know, I didn’t discriminate who I sat down with and talked to at that young age, because so many of them at that time I thought they had something to offer me. As I got older and realized a lot of the things that a lot of the individuals in that community was telling me – it really didn’t have no value.

Q: And so part of what you gleaned from all that was a necessity to earn status. Can you tell me what you thought that did for you, earning status?

A: Well, if anybody is a part of anything – no matter if it’s in the military, if it’s in sports, or if it’s in the Fortune 500 – everybody wants to reach the top. And that’s what I wanted to do when I was in that life. I wanted to be at the top. I wanted to have a strong reputation. I wanted to be known as one of the ones as they say in street terms – I was skunk down when I was out there representing that lifestyle.

Q: You definitely have made a name for yourself now. Is there some part of you – the 18-year-old…

A: Never. Pride is something I always stay away from. To me it was like a job. It was something that I signed on to do and I just did it. And I tried to do it to the best of my ability, at that young age when I was naive.

Q: So who are you now?

A: First and foremost, I’m a man of God. I’m a man that has a purpose in life, a vision and mission. That’s who I am now. I’m not one that’s misguided anymore. I’m not misled anymore. I’m humble, I’m respectful, courteous, I’m tolerant and I have a great deal of compassion for myself as well as other people.

Q: What kind of things make you happy?

A: Seeing other people happy.

Q: What makes you sad?

A: Looking at the conditions of the people and they are not willing to stand up and change it.

Q: I know that you are associated with some community programs. What are they and what do you hope to accomplish with them?

A: Healing. I want love and healing to come back to the community. I want to be where people can walk outside and they don’t have to worry about somebody pulling up on them, and if they say the wrong thing next thing you know an AK47 is flying up out the window and these people are being gunned down.

I don’t want to see that no more in South Central. I don’t want to see on every other block there’s a dispensary – a liquor store, or a dope house where people can go by that poison, that crack cocaine, that methamphetamine or any other type of street pharmaceuticals that is destroying the lives of mankind.

Q: What about gangs. I understand that they are sort of brotherhoods. What do you think is possible for that brotherhood in South Central? How can it be different?

A: Grown men got to come to the table and do grown men things. And what I mean by that is you have to come to the table willing to listen to both sides. Let go of the past. Whatever happened in the past you can’t change it. And know that if we come together and we unify we can make a beautiful change. Not just within our community; within the homes, within the schools and within the surrounding areas if we can just settle the differences that have been holding us back for so long in South Central when it comes to that gang violence. We all are brothers. Yes, we are probably not biological brothers, but if you look at our lineage, we all are descendants of people from Africa that were brought over here to America as slaves and these same people that sacrificed their lives through that Atlantic Slave trade — to see what we are doing now — it’s a total, total shame to our ancestors.

Q: Is there anything that you would have me know that doesn’t have anything to do with questions I’ve asked so far?

A: Well, my last thing that I would have to say is that I just want the world and the people that read this article to know that that individual in 1992 no longer exists.

I went through a great transformation. Throughout this ordeal I have been able to purify my mind, my heart and by me doing that I’ve taken on great ideas. And I have great drive to make things better in the community that I played a major role in destroying.

Q: The term railroaded. I’ve heard it used in association with what happened to you because of your connection with the riots and how officials handled you. What can you say to me about that term railroaded?

A: Well, we know if you ever been caught up in the system, when they feel you have done something and you got away, the system don’t let it go. They do everything in their power eliminate you and what I mean by eliminate to kill you, or lock you away for the rest of your life. That’s what railroading is and with my situation in 1992 they feel that I only got a slap on the wrist. Even though I was found guilty by a jury of my peers, I served my time, but those in the Los Angeles Police Department, those in the district attorney’s office and people behind closed doors in higher places — once I was released back to society their mission was to send me back to prison and they accomplished their task.

They railroaded me and sent me back on a crime that I did not do, and they know that and everybody else knows that.