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Saturday, April 2, 2016


Madness, Such Madness

The Ferguson riots were never about the death of Michael Brown. The life of a black male teenager in North St. Louis comes pretty cheap, just another statistic.  Twenty one year old Tyrin Williams’ lifeless body was dumped, like discarded trash, Monday afternoon in the middle of a vacant city lot, riddled with three bullet holes, shot execution style.

Williams, due to one shining moment in a short life filled with dead ends – became a St. Louis street basketball legend. 

At 5'9", he made for an unlikely court wizard, but make no mistake, Williams was a baller of the finest kind. So many city kids like Williams dream the dreams of champions. Throw a basketball up at the local Mathews Dickey Boys and Girls Club and watch the passion amongst the flock of youngsters who dive for it, a dream falling from the sky. They say half of life is showing up. These kids keep showing up.

By age 14, with Williams’ sterling  rep on the city’s asphalt play grounds, the fact that he had not been plucked up by a benevolent private high dollar county high school speaks volumes of the baggage Williams carried;  too much street savvy and a horrific school record dominated by failing grades and poor attendance.

St. Louis high school stars Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum - who both as seniors at Chaminade Prep were named national high school player of the year - have brought glory and honor to the hallowed halls of suburbia, black ballers rescued  from the city public schools to lead Chaminade  to basketball glory. Some blacks in the hoops loop of the Lou bitterly refer to such city mercenaries who migrate to suburban private white schools as nothing more than hired field hands. Basic tuition at Chaminade is $17,564 a year. Required class fees and other miscellaneous fees can easily tack on another 2K. Scholarships are available, I am told.

Williams for four sporadic years attended Riverview Gardens High School, perhaps, some claimed, the worse public high school in the United States of America. Williams never had a chance. I spoke to him one time in the spring of his senior year about a JUCO in Nebraska I had a connection with. I knew immediately it would never work. He was too far immersed in the street gang culture to be dropped off in the middle of a dusty cross roads small Nebraska town and not expect toxic problems to immediately swirl from all sides. I never saw Williams again. He played seven games at a JUCO in Illinois, returned home for Christmas break and never again left St. Louis.
To the rest of the metro area North St. Louis County is a bag of urban garbage held at arm's length. Riverview Gardens High School is a world away from the manicured campus of Chaminade Prep.  Williams’ home turf is a nightmarish place for a boy to come of age, dominated by gangs, drugs, and murder.  Tyrin was an off spring of these streets and his death a product of them, as well. A visit to his Facebook page a day after his lifeless body was dumped in a trash strewed vacant lot reveals a world dominated by gang signs and the gangsta culture.  

But on one glorious 2014 winter night the streets threw off the yoke and fought back. Riverview Gardens’ record stood at a modest 7-10.  Earlier in the season Williams was suspended by the Missouri High School Activities Association for an on court fight. He regained his uniform in time to throw the RG Rams on his back and propel the 7th seed into the tournament championship game and a date with the hated Chaminade Flyers and its perceived bought team of super stars.
When the smoke cleared that heady night, Williams and the Rams were the proud owner of an 81-75 shocking overtime upset win and top honors of the Denver Miller Classic. Williams had tallied 43 points. He drilled four 3-pointers in the first half and didn’t hit the rim until his fifth missed with less than a minute to go before halftime. With each trey the defense moved him back farther and farther from the rim. He just kept stroking. Another triple from Williams tied the game with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation and his six points in overtime sealed the deal.

In a zone that night, Tyrin Williams was a one man wrecking crew and the whole north side celebrated with him. He shot over, under and around the 6'9" Tatum, his more decorated and foot taller foe. Tyrin sliced, he diced, he strutted and he talked; oh my, they say, how he talked.

Jayson Tatum is by all accounts an outstanding young man; a scholar and a fast rising super star that will enthrall us on TV for many years. No doubt, but on one frigid winter night he took back stage to a street kid with gold teeth, a torso full of tats and game that matched his mouth. It was the signature moment in the life of the kid everyone called T-Y.
Williams’s performance that night was epic and will live on for years, retold over and over by the guardians of north side hoop lore. I did not attend the game but I will forever wish I had. I am told the gym was eclectic. Fans of all ages danced up and down the wooden bleachers, wildly throwing their hands in the air and screaming; grown men slapping palms; small boys tricked out in their best new Christmas Nike gear bouncing from bleacher row to bleacher row. Laughter was everywhere.  A downtrodden community had arisen as one; for a brief interlude free of drugs, free of poverty, free of despair, free, free at last.

The police say they have no leads or a motive for the murder of Williams, yet. They should take a look at Tyrin Williams’ Facebook wall. The hood knows, just will not snitch. “u cool w/ my ex and it's funny how u just got into it with that bitch and her brother I hope it's not no fuckery behind this cuz she gone pay RIH Tyrin T-y Williams.” When Black Lives Matter is swallowed up with a No Snitch wall of silence; madness reigns and young men die senseless and inglorious deaths, alone in vacant lots over grown with the weeds of urban neglect.

Chaminade grad Bradley Beal is now a multi-millionaire NBA star with the Washington Wizards. His fellow alum Jayson Tatum is not far behind. The plan is to spend one year at the Duke NBA finishing school, then on to the League and fame and fortune. Tyrin Williams resides this morning in a casket, scheduled for an afternoon no frills burial, entombed for eternity in a dysfunctional neighborhood he could never quite break free from.

Time is a deep and dark river, and it rolls non-stop one way; with neither consent nor concern for justice or fairness. On this rainy morning it rolls on without Tyrin Williams. When will the madness cease?