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So. Florida Continues
to Seek Justice for Slain Teen

So. Florida Continues
to Seek Justice for Slain Teen


No one has come forward in the murder of teenager Simmie Williams, who was slain a year ago in Fort Lauderdale, but many in the community still continue the fight to find his killer.

A year ago this week, 17-year-old Simmie Williams, a culinary school hopeful still attempting to forge an identity for himself on his own terms, was gunned down in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Fifty-two weeks later, a murder suspect has yet to be named, and Williams's death has become symbolic in the southern Florida community -- not only among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, but among communities of color -- of the inequalities of justice.

Williams was killed near Sistrunk Boulevard and Northwest 10th Avenue, an area known as a gathering point for transgender people. Williams was walking with friends along Sistrunk on February 22, 2008. An attacker shouted words, and a shot was fired, catching Williams under his arm, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper. The bullet went straight to his heart, causing him to collapse in seconds.

Though police say Williams was found wearing feminine clothing, Michael Rajner, a local activist who is close to the case, says that the description of Williams's garments was sensationalized.

"In reality, [Williams] was gender-questioning, and was actually found in a T-shirt that was tied in a knot, not a dress," Rajner said. "How did the media even distort this into something that this wasn't? How did law enforcement distort it?"

Williams would also go by the names Chris and Beyonce. His mother, Denise King, said that she knew Simmie was gay; she said she had to pull him out of school for being bullied so frequently. His case is not unique -- about a quarter of black LGBT students have missed classes or at least one day of school for fear of being harassed, according to a study by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network released in January. Students who are harassed and then miss school are also more likely to see a drop in grades. Rather than complete high school, Williams was planning to earn his GED and then go on to culinary school.

"When you look at it, it could happen again," King said to reporters at a vigil on February 22. "And it's going to be somebody else's child and they will want somebody to step up and speak."

King has since become a vocal advocate against bullying in schools and has become involved in other LGBT-related causes, like the fight against Florida's Amendment 2, a ban on state recognition of same-sex partnerships that passed in November. In turn, activists like Rajner and Waymon Hudson have partnered with her through the investigation. Hudson says he has partnered with King for local outreach in trying to bring Williams's murderer to justice. He, King, and many others have canvassed neighborhoods looking for any clues that might lead to an arrest or further leads for police questioning.

There is frustration with locals who will not come forward, since it is rumored that some people know who fired that fatal shot. Even more frustrating is that Fort Lauderdale police have yet to make any arrests.

Hudson said that the police department's decision to not treat the attack as a hate crime has detracted from the gravity of the case. "Those of us in the south Florida community can't help but feel that it is a hate crime when a gender-variant young African-American person was shot and killed in the streets. That definitely made Simmie more of a target."

Hudson added that while it is clear that some police officials care about this case, the effort to find his killer has been deficient. The investigation has been kept confidential so far to protect the fragility of the case, public information officer Frank Sousa said. So far, he told The Advocate , every lead that has come in "has proven to be incorrect."

The initial reward to find a suspect was $1,000, which is typical for a homicide in Broward County. As Sousa said, officials are "treating this homicide as we would treat any other homicide." In contrast, the reward for information leading to the arrest of the person who killed a Broward County sheriff's deputy in August 2007 is currently posted at $267,000, a cumulative fee from local and federal law enforcement agencies and the Concerned Citizens of Law Enforcement, which is putting up $172,000 of the total.

"People in our community are worth less," said Hudson. "I agree that killing a cop is a horrible thing, but so is killing a 17-year-old kid. To put that price tag on something that hit our community so hard, it's really hurtful."

Furthermore, Rajner said that when King tried to be compensated after the shooting, authorities denied her claim, saying that Williams engaged in unlawful activities contributing to his own death.

"But they haven't solved the case," Rajner said, "so how could they even make such a claim? It's outrageous."

Rajner said that adding another "$10,000 to $15,000 for information leading up to the arrest would definitely lead somebody to come forward... If that's enough to help someone move away, [to protect the informant], it could make a huge difference."

The quest to find Williams's murderer continues. Rajner said that posters asking for information about the crime are displayed in juvenile detention centers and jail cells typically reserved for effeminate men, some of whom identify as gay or transgender. In Fort Lauderdale and the broader south Florida community, several segments of the population have come together to rally around King and speak more openly about issues that this case touches on, like economic differences, hate crimes, safety in schools, and police attitudes toward minorities. Williams's life has been honored in vigils and town hall meetings, bringing together local leaders and concerned citizens from different walks of life. Community members convened a town hall meeting on hate crimes that raised an additional $4,000 to add to the Crime Stoppers reward, bringing the total to $5,000.

"Simmie's case has become about crossing the community walls, and the 'cause walls' that we put up sometimes," Hudson said. "It's not about being gay or transgender, it's about race and class, and all of these other issues that play into that. It's forced us to expand our outreach [to include issues of] poverty, race relations, general acceptance, and social justice."

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