A Black Lives Matter activist who worked as a library staffer in Chattanooga, Tennesse, allegedly posted an Instagram video showing him burning books he’d taken home authored by former President Trump and columnist Ann Coulter. The library ultimately fired him. According to the former employee, he was a victim of racial discrimination.
Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams, 35, “started as a part-time library specialist at the downtown branch more than two years ago, helping to manage a computer room and maker space and conducting outreach campaigns encouraging residents to take advantage of the resources,” The Washington Post reported. A rapper, according to the Post, he “helped organize demonstrations against police brutality last year.” The Post added, “he and other activists were arrested for allegedly blocking an emergency vehicle, among other charges.”
Those other charges included taking a Sheriff’s flag and burning it, as the Chattanoogan reported:
Marie Mott and Cameron Williams were charged by Chattanooga Police with obstructing an intersection and blocking an emergency vehicle. Later in the day, they were charged by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in connection with taking the Sheriff’s flag from the county jail and burning it at Miller Park. Chattanooga Police on Sunday morning said they had obtained warrants for multiple protesters, including Ms. Mott and Williams, “who engaged in illegal and dangerous activity” on Friday at or near the intersection of Market and East Main Streets. Police said the protesters blocked an emergency vehicle attempting to get to an active call for a vehicle crash with injuries.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported on December 4: “In a video posted temporarily on Instagram on Tuesday, Williams appeared to burn copies of Coulter’s ‘How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)’ and Trump’s ‘Crippled America’ in an outdoor fire, spraying each with lighter fluid. ‘FDT,’ a Trump protest song by YG and Nipsey Hussle, played in the background.”
After the library was apprised of the video, Williams was placed on paid administrative leave. On February 10, he was fired.
According to the Post, Williams claims that he was instructed to look for damaged, outdated or untruthful books. Branch managers, Williams claimed, had informed employees they could bring home books that had been selected for removal. Williams says that he was targeted because of his history of activism, and that “his boss asked him to weed through the political science section, specifically citing his activist background and instructing him to take down titles that contained misinformation or where views, attitudes, or information had changed. Books more than 10 years old could also come off the shelves.”
The Times Free Press reported that a library spokesperson said the library had trained Williams in the “rigorous and thorough stand practice” for how to deal with the books, adding that the process for book removal is dependent on publication date, circulation date and physical condition. When the library fired Williams, they stated he’d broken the rules by “improperly removing items from the Library’s collections,” the Post reported.
A spokesperson for the library told the Times Free Press that “personal feelings” should not have played a part in what books were retained by the library.
“It’s our job to ensure that all walks of life have access to information without judgment or prejudice,” said the spokesperson. “Whether these materials were actually destroyed in a fire or even if they were just removed, that does go against our policy. Because at the end of the day, we believe that censorship has no place in a library.”
Corinne Hill, the Chattanooga Public Library’s executive director, told the Post, “The City of Chattanooga has policies in place to protect the public’s interest, and we follow those directives.”
Williams told the Post, “Time after time, we’ve used old books for art projects. Time after time, employees have been encouraged to take books. This is a BS rule that doesn’t exist. They’re just using it to persecute me. … This is not the precedent on how this stuff is handled. To be frank, it’s because I’m a community member that’s been speaking for the betterment of Black people for several years.”
Williams concluded, “I was treated as a token Black man, but as soon as I speak forcefully for Black people, they essentially tried to assassinate my character.”