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Sentencing in the Death of Michael K. Williams

Michael K. Williams

Sentencing in the Death of Michael K. Williams

The hot shot probably surprised Michael K. Williams as much as it did everybody else. After all, this hardly seemed to be the action of someone seeking to check out. Williams didn’t seem to be the check-out type anyway. Sure, the actor was getting high. But he wasn’t getting die high. He didn’t seem to be in much of a career-killing mood either. Okay, so his personal demons did often drag down his better angels, yet even that didn’t prevent him from soaring. It didn’t stop Emmy from smiling in his direction either. In fact, television’s most coveted award had smiled Williams’s way on five separate occasions, most recently right before his death. And while Lovecraft Country didn’t put him over the proverbial top, everyone believed it was only a matter of time before he did win.

And yet…

The problem with factoring in time is, well, you’ve kinda gotta be around. And on September 6, 2021, Michael K. Williams had stopped being around – forever.

So no, Williams never did walk away with that expected Emmy. His Montrose Freeman character did win the Critics Choice Award that year though, which is certainly saying something. So are the fistful of Screen Actors Guild Award nominations Williams received as part of the ensembles in Boardwalk Empire, 12 Years a Slave and, yes, Lovecraft Country.

Not that it mattered. Williams didn’t seem like the award sweating type. Not even close. He did seem like the do-the-work type though. Big time. And he did so with inimitable grace, grit and wile. Unfortunately, we’ll never see that work spark anew again.

It’s a heavy absence.

Killing Michael K. Williams

The man who sold Williams the lethal concoction of drugs is still around though. Well, kinda still around. See, he’s a 72-year-old junkie named Carlos Macci. And Judge Ronnie Abrams just slapped him with 30 months for his role in Michael K. Williams’ overdose death. So, he won’t be around for a minute.

Noting the man’s age and condition though, some folks seem to think he’ll never be around again. After all, the shelf-life for a 72-year-old junkie has gotta be pretty short, even if the judge did include rehab in his sentence. Heck, most folks believe Macci should’ve been credited with time served in the first place. And that includes The Wire creator David Simon, who wrote a three-page letter to the judge expressing just those views.

Macci pretty much blew it though. Instead of being able to maybe bank on the fact that many of Williams’ closest stepped up to try and lighten the burden of the man who ostensibly killed their loved one, he bonded out and went back to his usual tricks. So reads the between lines of Maria Cramer’s New York Times reporting anyway, which alludes to some usual ugliness between plea and sentencing

The judge wasn’t having it.

“Judge Abrams said that while she sympathized with Mr. Macci’s troubles, the deadly toll of fentanyl and his decision to keep selling heroin laced with it even after Mr. Williams died demanded accountability.”

“I have struggled with the decision I’ve had to make today,” she told Mr. Macci. “Selling drugs like heroin and fentanyl not only cost Mr. Williams his life, but it’s cost you your freedom.”

Judge Abrams the proceeded to hit Macci with about two-thirds of the four years the federal prosecutor was seeking.

Further Mitigation?

About that federal prosecutor, assistant United States attorney Micah F. Fergenson, who also admitted that “this is a difficult case.” Fergenson even seemed to allude to the fact that Macci might’ve been a sympathetic character, which was why he’d always been shown leniency. In fact, all four of Macci’s previous convictions ended in sentences of time-served.

“And they had absolutely no deterrent effect,” Mr. Fergenson said.

Williams’ nephew, Dominic Dupont, also stepped up to address the judge, as well as the obvious elephant in the room.

“It weighs heavily on me to see someone be in the situation that he’s in,” said Dupont. But “selling poison to people is not right.”

David Simon’s three-page letter addressed the sentencing disparity that usual accompanies black and brown convicts, as well as New York State’s often egregious guidelines (which date back to Rockefeller). And while Macci did usually manage to escape the harshest of penalties over the course of his life, Simon didn’t believe anyone would be served by giving him a harsh hit now, especially given his age and his addiction.

“I know that Michael would look upon the undone and desolate life of Mr. Macci and know two things with certainty: First, that it was Michael who bears the fuller responsibility for what happened,” wrote Simon. And second, “No possible good can come from incarcerating a 71-year-old soul, largely illiterate, who has himself struggled with a lifetime of addiction.”

Simon knew of what he wrote too. Seems Williams was very active in a grassroots initiative called We Build the Block. In fact, he’d co-founded the organization with Dana Rachlin, who also wrote Judge Abrams.

“Rachlin told the judge that Williams had dedicated his life to ending ‘harsh sentencing policies’ for drug-related crimes,” wrote Cramer, “because they ‘disproportionately harm communities of color and make the supply chains more dangerous.’”

Who Should Be Prosecuted?

All of which begs the question: which lethal dose fentanyl dealers should we prosecute?

Should we only prosecute the young gun who recklessly cuts his heroin with a little too much fent and kills his customers?

What about those who keep on dealing even after customers overdose and die?

Should we (also) prosecute the dealer who sells counterfeit prescription pills to people who don’t know better? We speak of those who use Snapchat to reach the high school set and never once warn them that the drugs are generally lethal.

How about those who cut their crystal or crack or X with murderous levels of fentanyl? Remember, unlike those who pursue opioids, these buyers probably wouldn’t be on the lookout for fentanyl, because fentanyl isn’t even on their radar. Even worse, unlike opioid users, these other, largely recreational drug users rarely have any tolerance to any opioids. They most certainly won’t have tolerance to a drug that’s 50-100 times more powerful than off-the-shelf heroin.

Then there are those like Carlos Macci and his cronies, who basically sold drugs to supplement their own addictions. Yes, the Times kinda tried to peg the “four man crew” as if they were real pros. And maybe age and duration probably do defer upon them some sorta default professional status. Yet this quartet of dealers seem anything but professional.

They are just four guys from New York’s Soft White Underbelly. The kinda creatures American filmmaker Mark Laita says “are frequently invisible in society — the unhoused, the sex worker, the chronic drug user, the runaway, the gang member, the poor and the sick.” These guys might be hard as sea slugs and at least 10 times harder to kill, but at the end of the day they’re really just trying to subside another day.

How Do We Honor Michael K. Williams?

Can we honor Michael K. Williams’ social and political commitment while forgiving his killer(s)? Can Macci and company really be considered Williams’ killers? After all, we’re not talking about a rookie getting taken in by kids. We’re not talkin’ about some kinda flim flam artists either. Williams surely knew the risks. (Whether those risks were justifiable is another story.) He also knew about responsibility. Williams would seem to be the last man who’d blame his drug use on someone else. And yes, that would have to include an accidental overdose.

It also would have to include him getting high alone. He could’ve called in or even paid someone to be on standby with Narcan. While it might make no sense even to entertain the idea now, we’d be thrilled if the next kickass actor would think twice before grabbing a bag of dope and getting high without first taking precautions. Phone a friend. Hire a flunkie. Or at least phone a friend while you’re doing whatcha gotta do. That open phone line might mean your life.

Speaking of open lines… Have you fallen for fent? Have you noticed how much more ragged it makes you feel? Did you also get a glimpse at how much it fucks up your nervous system? Yep, people aren’t just overdosing; they’re also having seizures. And those seizures are often leaving them with some serious neurological damage.

So why not simply leave it alone? If you’re already in it, then step away. If you’re not, then stay away. Either way, best to write that shit right outta your life. Besides, once your skies start clearing again, you’ll be reminded about all that clarity has to offer. And you’ll be able to not only see for miles, but you’ll be able to enjoy the view for the rest of your life!

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