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Anthem Protests Won’t Come Between Mother and Son

She found a Plan B on a bulletin board that advertised openings in the Police Department.

The prospect of holding a job where no two days were the same appealed to her, and she said the department’s equal pay for women was also a huge selling point. She quickly realized that she had found her calling.

“Most days I went home amazed that someone was paying me to do this job,” she said. “I get to engage with a bunch of people, I get to help people, and then I get to put bad guys in jail.”

At first, she didn’t dwell much on the dangers. They became more of a concern after she and her husband, Cody Williams Sr., a justice of the peace who played two years of basketball at the University of Oklahoma, started a family. In addition to Alan, they have a younger son, Cody Jr., a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

When Alan was a child, he watched an episode of “Cops,” the reality series that follows police officers on duty. He stayed up until his mother returned from work late and tearfully asked if she was going to get hurt doing her job.

She lifted her shirt and revealed her bulletproof vest, encouraging her son touch it. “I said, ‘As long as I’m wearing this vest, I’m safe,’” she recalled.


A gift hangs on a wall in the office belonging to Chief Williams, the first woman and the second African-American to become the Phoenix police chief. “I just kind of look at her, and it reminds me that anything is possible,” she said.

Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

During the interview, she undid a few of her shirt buttons to show that she continues to wear it.

“Always,” she said. “Just as a reminder of the promise I made to my kid.”

Her first two decades in the department included a stint as an assistant chief. In 2011, she left Phoenix to become the police chief in Oxnard, Calif., where she oversaw a 400-person force. While there, she dealt with an episode involving a bystander fatally shot by officers in a case of mistaken identity and another involving the death of a person in custody.

“It was almost like for two years I couldn’t breathe because I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” Williams said. She sought advice from an advisory board made up of people from the business and religious sectors, and said she made sure her department held itself accountable for its actions.

During this time, Alan was about 40 miles north of Oxnard, at Santa Barbara, the university he had settled on before his mother got the chief’s job. She tried not to let what was happening in her workplace affect his world, but headlines critical of her department cast a long shadow.

“I always tried to be there for her as much as possible,” said Alan Williams, who starred on the Gauchos’s basketball team. “She understood I was on my journey, too.”

He signed with the Suns in 2015 as an undrafted free agent and appeared in 10 games last season. His value to the team, Coach Earl Watson said, goes far beyond statistics.

“I can go on and on about how much we love him and his energy on the bench,” Watson said, adding: “He has an edge to him, so he is not just a nice guy. He has toughness to him, changes the tone and kind of the energy in practice.”

Williams and the Suns were in Oklahoma City for a game on Oct. 28 when his mother was sworn in as police chief.

Outside the ceremony, more than two dozen people protested, carrying white crosses and black coffins in remembrance of the 17 people killed this year by Phoenix police officers.

Two days later, Chief Williams received a standing ovation from a crowd of 17,000 when she was introduced after the first quarter of the Suns’ home game against the Golden State Warriors.

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