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July 1, 2014

City council member receives death threats over documentary

NORMAN — Norman City Council member Chad Williams expected backlash when he agreed to participate in a documentary about a gay teen’s suicide and the impact on the community. What he didn’t expect was the level of hate in those responses.

Threats — including those he perceives as potential death threats — has made Williams think twice about participating in future dialogue on gay issues.

“I fully expected some (backlash) — I didn’t think it would be to this degree,” Williams said. “For my family to watch me die or for a bullet to go through my head …”

Williams took the threats seriously enough to report them to the police.

“That’s what gets people in trouble — not thinking there’s anything to (threats),” he said.

The documentary “Broken Heart Land” was previewed June 17 in Norman. Williams participated in a question-and-answer session that evening and received positive emails for being part of the dialogue.

“I don’t think I would have gotten those emails if I hadn’t done the Q&A,” Williams said.

Niki Harrington, sister of Zack Harrington whose death is the focus of the film, thanked Williams for being willing to participate in the panel that evening. Others conversed with Williams and his wife after the screening.

The problem started a week later.

“why don’t u do us all a favor and swallow a Bullitt,” was posted on William’s Facebook page on June 25, the morning after the film was released nationally.

“You evil, repulsive bastard! You are the Devil himself and even look like an evil and wretched monster ... ” was a small portion of another, vitriolic Facebook post.

Williams said the phone calls were the worst.

“Only one of the phone calls would make me feel threatened, but most of them were, ‘People like you should rot in hell.’ Most of them made no sense,” he said. “In hindsight, I probably should not have answered any of them so that the police would have had the messages.”

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