Eric Williams Race for Justice winners donate scholarship

The Lewisburg team members, all corrections officers at the prison, designated Mansfield University to receive a $5,000 criminal justice scholarship

By Eric Mark
The Citizens' Voice

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — The winners of the Eric Williams Race for Justice got their prize on Saturday — then promptly gave it away.

The four-man team from the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg recorded the fastest time in the relay race held at 13 sites across the nation on May 16 to honor corrections officer Eric Williams, a Nanticoke native who was killed on the job by an inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan, in Wayne County in 2013.

The Lewisburg team members, all corrections officers at the prison, designated Mansfield University to receive a $5,000 criminal justice scholarship, said Don Williams, father of Eric Williams and a prime mover behind the race and the Sgt. Eric Williams Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

A large crowd of lawmakers, law enforcement, corrections officers and supporters attended the ceremony Saturday morning at Luzerne County Community College, which hosted one of last month’s races, Williams said.

A surprise $1,000 scholarship was awarded to LCCC for its support of the race and the scholarship foundation, he said. Other schools throughout the country received scholarships from the winners of races at the other 12 sites, he added.

The organizers of the race decided to hold a ceremony to give participants and supporters a chance to gather and reflect, Williams said.

“We thought it would be good to have a follow-up to the national race,” he said. “We accomplished what we wanted.”

The ceremony looked to the future and as well as the past, according to Williams.

Eric Williams’ brutal death — he was stabbed repeatedly with a homemade knife in an unprovoked attack, while alone and essentially unarmed — inspired two proposed bills in Congress designed to protect corrections officers, who are not permitted to carry weapons.

One of the proposed bills would allow corrections officers to carry pepper spray, while the other would allow them to store weapons while at work and take them home after work, for protection, Williams said.

Saturday’s ceremony featured speeches from local legislators in support of the proposed bills, according to Williams. He and his wife, Jean, plan to travel to Washington, D.C., later this month to lobby Congress on the legislation.

The Eric Williams Race for Justice will be held again next year, probably during National Law Enforcement Week in May, Williams said. He hopes it becomes an annual tradition.

“That would be a good thing,” he said. “You can’t go wrong calling attention to the dangers officers face.”

The support from the community at large and the law enforcement community in particular continues to inspire Williams, he said.

“It’s a very powerful brotherhood, sisterhood of law enforcement that really closed ranks to help our family, to be supportive,” he said.

Most of the hundreds of people who took part in the race named for his son never met him, Williams noted.

“They don’t know Eric, but you would swear they did,” he said.

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