As far as many of the interactions between police and African Americans that make the news go, what happened to Ricky Williams in Tyler last week barely registers. The former Texas Longhorns star running back was in town for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Banquet. Williams, who had arrived a couple of hours early, decided to go on an afternoon stroll in the woods near his Courtyard Marriott hotel. When he returned to the hotel parking lot, police were waiting for him.
As the Tyler Morning Telegraph reports, a resident near called the police to report “a black male crouched behind a fence.” When the homeowner spoke to the man, he crawled over the fence and into a church parking lot. A construction worker that police questioned nearby said that he saw a black man wearing black who looked as though he was going to take a tape measure (he did not, though).
Williams told his story on Austin radio station KLBJ’s Dudley and Bob with Matt Show on Wednesday morning. When he was confronted by police, he was ordered to put his hands behind his back while being searched. Tyler police released body camera video of the encounter, and in a statement, public information officer Don Martin explained that “They were stopping a person that was in an area that is not generally open to the public for normal use (who was) acting in a suspicious manner,” according to the local paper. “If (an officer) has reasonable cause to contact you and you’re acting in some type of manner that is suspicious … (they’re) going to make sure that you don’t have any weapons on you before getting you identified.”
The audio from the encounter is at times obscured by wind noise, but the conversation was at times tense. Williams explained to police that he had picked up the tape measure from the ground and was going to return it to the construction worker they had interviewed. Williams seems frustrated that many of the questions he’s being asked include phrasing such as, “If you’re a guest at the hotel” after he had told them multiple times that he was staying at the hotel and because during the initial body search officers found the key card to his hotel room. When they ask Williams why he’s in Tyler, he seems almost embarrassed to have to name-drop Earl Campbell. “Do you know how many times I’ve been messed with by cops just for being black?” Williams is heard asking on the footage.
The encounter ended shortly after that with no arrest. On Dudley and Bob with Matt, Williams said that he hopes it’s a learning lesson: “I understand it,” Williams said. “They’re not used to seeing people. When they get a call they have to follow-up. I hope hopefully after this situation they realize black lives do matter.”
After Williams went on the radio, Tyler Mayor Martin Heines told the Morning Telegraph that he’d spoken to Williams and assured him that he’s welcome in his city. “I hope I can spend some time with him when he does return,” Heines said. “I even invited him to stay with my family when he’s here. We have a guest room he’s welcome to.”