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Young Activist Shot Dead After Months of Calling for Peace in Chicago

By  Kelly Bauer and Joe Ward | February 6, 2016 10:23am | Updated on February 12, 2016 2:24pm

 Matthew Williams, 21, was a passionate activist, friends said. He was shot and killed on Saturday.
Matthew Williams, 21, was a passionate activist, friends said. He was shot and killed on Saturday.
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Courtesy Stephanie Gonser

CHICAGO — Matthew Williams was a passionate anti-violence activist who moved to Chicago in search of a "new life," a friend said.

But Williams, 21, was shot and killed early Saturday while inside a friend's home in Park Manor. He was playing video games when a man, who had earlier gotten into an argument with someone else inside the home, "decided to shoot the building up," fatally wounding Williams, said friend and activist Ja'Mal Green.

Williams had campaigned against that kind of violence for months. The 21-year-old, who was born in Chicago but raised in Virginia, moved back to the city a year ago, Green said. He became a passionate activist, speaking out against police brutality and gun violence while calling for a better public education system, Green said.

“He wanted a new life. He wanted to experience something different. While he was here we started protesting, and he wanted to be involved,” Green said.

Williams joined major protests, marching against police brutality on Black Friday and joining rallies for slain black teen Laquan McDonald. Just a week before his death he took part in a political rally outside Trump Tower. His "bubbly" personality made him stand out, Green said.

Activists Matthew Williams (from l.) , Ja'Mal Green and Lamon Reccord speak at a political rally. Williams, 21, was shot and killed on Saturday, just days after this rally outside Trump Tower. [Courtesy Stephanie Gonser]

“He was the one with the most energy,” Green said. Williams “was always yelling, always saying what should be done in the community. He’s very vocal. There were so many people that came out to protest with us … he was one that stood out.

“He wanted our kids to have better lives and not have to fight.”

And Williams knew when to have fun — at the rally near Trump Tower, the last time Green saw him, Williams was playfully pushed to the ground by activist Lamon Reccord as they pretended Reccord was a police officer, Green said — and when to be serious.

The friends met so often at rallies, marches, police board hearings and meetings that they were seeing each other every day, Green said.

“He’s always playing and having fun, but when it was time to be serious he’s super serious,” Green said. “He was a fun guy. And then when we got to the protest, it was just serious face. ‘We tired of this.’ The yelling, the chanting, the fists in the air … just a bubbly personality, but passionate about what he believed in.”

Besides activism, Williams was passionate about music, rapping under the name "Matty Matt." He was 21, "just finding out what he wanted to do" in life, but he liked rapping and posted his songs online, Green said.

Just a few days before the shooting, Williams and Green spoke over the phone. Williams and others had been helping and feeding homeless people, he told Green. It was his last conversation with his friend. 

Then, on Friday, Williams went on Facebook and posted a message for his friends:

I love y'all. May peace be upon you.

Posted by Matt Williams on Friday, February 5, 2016

Hours later, as Williams played games at a friend's home, a shooter opened fire on the building, Green said. One of the bullets hit Williams in his back, Green said.

Williams was taken from the 7100 block of South Calumet Avenue to Northwestern Hospital in critical condition, police said. He was pronounced dead at 12:08 a.m. Saturday of a gunshot wound to his torso, according to Cook County medical examiner's records.

People know the shooter, Green said, but the shooter has not yet been arrested. Williams was not the intended target, but "the innocent one who was killed."

Now, Green is calling for communities hit by gun violence to speak up and "get these killers out of our neighborhoods." The "no-snitch rule has to be thrown out of our community," he said.

“It’s time for us to really put our foot down," Green said. "The only way things will stop is if we stop it. No one else can do what we need to do in our communities. Our kids are dying," Green paused and sighed. "Our future, our kids — their futures are being taken away."

Williams won't be forgotten, Green said, and activists will continue his work.

“His legacy will continue living on," Green said, "and we will continue fighting.”

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