Trenton's 1st African-American police chief dies

TRENTON - August 18, 2011

Ernie Williams was hired as a patrolman in 1963 and after working his way up the ranks became the City of Trenton's police chief.

He died Wednesday at the age of 77 from brain and lung cancer that was just diagnosed last month.

"He was from here, born and raised, and worked his way up and I think because of his days on the force as a young patrolman he touched the community in so many ways," Ernie's son Mark said.

"He was inventing community policing before it became a popular term," Captain Fred Reister fo the Trenton Police Department said.

"Someone who was about change for the better and that if you worked hard it would pay off," daughter Cheryl Griffith said.

Willams' friends and family are remembering the retired chief, his career, and his devotion to Trenton's residents.

"He tried to set an example for the kids his whole life, trying to make them go to school, understand there's more to life than the streets and violence and guns," retired detective Wesley Richardson said.

Education was so important to Williams because in 1943, his mother Berline sued Trenton when his brother Leon and another child were forced to walk across town to an all-black school because the new school two blocks away was whites-only. That case went to the State Supreme Court and was cited by the US Supreme Court in its landmark 1954 ruling to desegregate schools nationwide.

"To think that his family had something to do with that sits higher than perhaps the police chief, police director thing," Reverend Stanley Justice of Mt. Zion Church said.

"Being on the streets as a patrolman, he saw what was going on and he felt that he really could make a difference. And he's always been one to push the issue of education," ex-wife Joan Williams said.

An avid jogger and biker until the end, Williams returned to his old job briefly last year while new mayor Tony Mack filled out his cabinet.

Funeral services for Williams will be next week at Galilee Baptist Church. His casket will be escorted by an honor guard from the department he led and loved so much.

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