Napoleon Williams has taken his share of punishment for running his own radio station, and then some. He's faced trumped-up charges, the loss of his children, and strong-armed police - all for stepping up and speaking truth to power.
Now, after fighting for nearly 10 years, Napoleon Williams is off the air and on the run.
The saga begins on August 21, 1990 in not-so-racially-harmonious city of Decatur, Illinois: That is when Williams signs Black Liberation Radio on the air for the first time. The motive: Expose and force change in the attitudes and policies that were a source of constant tension within the community.
It reads like a page taken from Mbanna Kantako's own playbook: Kantako did the same thing in Illinois' capital city of Springfield just five years earlier in protest of police brutality in his housing project, and he continues to broadcast to this day. Williams even drove down to Springfield to meet with Kantako and discuss his plans for BLR.
In the both cases, broadcasting without a license was the only way to break the "black-out" other radio stations had placed over his community and its issues. But, unlike Kantako (who found some success), the experience turned Williams' life upside down.
State Spider Begins Weaving Web
Just ten days after putting Black Liberation Radio on the air, Napoleon Williams was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting the stepdaughter of his girlfriend, Mildred Jones. Williams ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser battery charge.
Williams went home from court and BLR remained on the air. But somehow, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officially added Napoleon to its "sexual perpetrator" database even though he was never convicted of anything of the sort.
His run-in with the law provided him with plenty of material to talk about on his station, which he'd mix in with other commentary, speeches by famous Black leaders, and music ranging from rap to soul.
Then, less than two months after his arrest, Williams' home was raided in SWAT-like fashion on charges that he was involved in a conspiracy to kill a drug agent. Williams was never charged with anything; during the raid agents coincidentally confiscated much of Williams' radio equipment.
Napoleon Williams replaced the station's gear, upgrading from a half-watt to 10 in the process, significantly increasing his signal range and attracting lots more listeners in the 'hood.
In December of 1991, Williams and Jones had a domestic dispute. Although Williams was arrested, Jones refused to press charges. The following month, the Illinois State Attorney's Office decided to prosecute the case on its own, throwing Jones in jail for a month for refusing to testify against Williams. During that time, the state also took custody of Unique Dream Williams, the couple's three-year old daughter - citing further allegations that Napoleon abused her. Unique Dream was placed with Mildred's mother.
Williams' kicked Black Liberation Radio into high gear. Ambushed by the move to take his daughter, Williams pleaded his case to his listeners. Unfortunately, it only seemed to heighten the ire of the "authorities."
In April, as Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones went to court to try and get their child back, both were arrested for trespassing - at the courthouse. Although Williams was the one roughed up while being handcuffed, it was the police that coaxed prosecutors into adding an additional charge of battery to an officer against Napoleon.
Children as Ammo
The beginning of May, 1992 saw three-year old Unique Dream Williams living with her grandmother, separated from her parents by a court order. After suffering an injury, Unique Dream came home to recuperate - but that did not sit well with the state. Mildred Jones was subsequently arrested for child abduction and sentenced to two years probation.
Unique Dream Williams was then placed in foster care and wouldn't see her parents again for nearly two years.
Somehow, though, Napoleon Williams kept Black Liberation Radio up and running. He focused his vitriolic comment away from the Decatur Police and toward the state Department of Children and Family Services, demanding his day in court to air all allegations and prove his (and Mildred's) innocence.
As he told their tale to-date, outrage in the Black community even forced local DCFS office onto Williams' side; the higher-ups in Springfield, however, had already taken over Unique Dream's case.
Williams and Jones' voices did not go unheeded by the state, though. The DCFS finally opened up an investigation into their case, and concluded on December 18, 1993 that Unique Dream should not have been removed from her family in the first place.
Just five days before this news broke, Mildred Jones gave birth to their second child, Atrue Dream Williams. It seemed like the family was finally going to be whole - but it was a short-lived celebration.
In March of 1994, Napoleon Williams was again arrested and sentenced to three years in prison on the trespassing and battery charges levied against him in 1992. In November, Mildred also went to prison because she'd violated her "kidnapping" probation by "trespassing" at the courthouse.
Because both parents were behind bars, 11-month old Atrue Dream Williams also was placed in the care of the state - even though the couple had documents drawn up that gave her grandmother custody rights. Unique Dream hadn't yet been returned to the family, so she stayed with her foster parent.
Flash forward to the summer of 1995, when Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones were both set free - Black Liberation radio went back on the air, bumping up its power from 10 to 15 watts and covering the entire city of Decatur.
A new battle to unite the family had begun: Napoleon and Mildred both produced the legal documents backing up their custody rights. And they raised hell.
But it only encouraged authorities to strike again: in December, Mildred was arrested for allegedly stealing her own purse from the Decatur Wal-Mart. The case was flimsy at best: the tape from Wal-Mart's video cameras mysteriously disappeared, and a different purse was reportedly used as evidence in the court case.
In July of 1996, Mildred was again convicted of theft, but was allowed to stay out of jail.
Fury, Felony and Fugitive
In the midst of these legal woes, Napoleon apparently crossed an invisible line; he aired a tape on his radio station of his daughter, Atrue Dream, saying that she wanted to come home to her parents. State lawyers immediately moved to revoke their visitation rights, claiming Black Liberation Radio gave them "undue influence" in their custody battle. A judge agreed, and the kids again disappeared into the maw of foster care.
Then, in January of 1997, BLR was raided again. This time, agents came for tapes: specifically, they wanted one of a phone call Williams had live on the air with a DCFS case worker, who admitted that his family should be made whole again, and that the state's case was full of holes.
Police used this tape as evidence to charge Williams under Illinois' eavesdropping law - hitting him with a serious felony.
Meanwhile, Williams was finally socked with a $17,500 fine from the FCC for unlicensed broadcasting.
However, people in Decatur could tune into BLR again: Williams had raised enough money from donations to replace his station and get back on the air not long after being shut down.
But in May, the station was again raided and all transmitting equipment was seized for a third time, and more charges were leveled against the couple.
By June of 1997, the public outrage was enough for the Decatur branch of the NAACP to call on the federal Department of Justice to begin a civil rights investigation into Napoleon and Mildred's problems, citing "irregularities" in the way they'd been handled by the Illinois justice system.
Predictably, nothing happened - Mildred was ultimately sent back to prison and Napoleon was convicted of felony eavesdropping. During this time, Mildred gave birth to their third child, Miracle.
Final Cut and Run
Thus began the current state of things. In mid-1999, Napoleon Williams was back in court for sentencing on his eavesdropping conviction. Mildred Jones, who had again gotten early release from prison, was locked up a third time.
But Napoleon's hearing took a break in mid-stream; he'd been convicted, but not yet sentenced. So, as everyone stretched their legs, Williams left the courtroom, walked out of the Macon County courthouse, and never looked back.
In the midst of it all, the state got ready to put his two daughters up for adoption.
Mildred Jones was released from prison earlier this year, on April 26th. Napoleon's whereabouts are unknown, and he's officially a wanted felon.
I was just in Decatur, Illinois this last weekend, and 99.7 on the FM dial remains silent. Black Liberation Radio is off the air - which seems to have been the point all along.
Compared with unlicensed broadcasters in other parts of the world, like Yugoslavia and the UK (where death and prison are the potential penalties for speaking out), most people think U.S. "pirates" have it easy.
Ask Napoleon Williams if that's true. He will beg to differ.
2002 Update: Two investigative journalists traveled to Decatur and spoke with several law enforcement officials and employees with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services about the Napoleon Williams case. Their foray uncovered startling evidence that the child abuse charges against Napoleon Williams may have been true, and that there may have been a history of abuse involving children outside the family.
Since none of their evidence was actually used in a court of law and the two journalists declined to publish their findings, it's nearly impossible to determine just what the exact truth is. While the journalists do believe that the state did act somewhat maliciously against Napoleon Williams and his radio station, they felt that the allegations of child abuse (and the evidence they uncovered supporting them) made Williams unworthy of support from established activists.
To the journalists involved in the publication of this private report: if you would now like to publish your work, please contact me and I will provide an outlet.