3 Council members call for independent investigation of death of Marcus Smith
At Monday’s Greensboro City Council meeting, Rev. David Kennedy dedicated a song to “that lying racist Wayne Scott.”
He was referring to the Greensboro Police chief whose officers fatally hog-tied Marcus Deon Smith on Sept. 8 of last year, using a RIPP Hobble restraint in a manner contrary to the instructions packaged with the device.
Fifteen minutes after the pastor sang, Zalonda Woods of the Homeless Union of Greensboro, presented the council with a box she said contained over 100,000 signatures collected by the national organization PushBlack. That’s when Representative At-large Michelle Kennedy (no relation to the pastor) announced that she and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson “would like to ask the city manager to call for an independent investigation into the death of Marcus Smith.”
Johnson seconded, with District 3’s Sharon Hightower noting “several months ago, I asked for that independent investigation, and it was ignored.”
This motion will be debated at the next city council meeting on April 16.
Marcus Smith moved to Greensboro from Rev. Kennedy’s hometown of Laurens, South Carolina, in 2010. Smith’s sister Kim Suber said Smith hoped to live in Greensboro for the rest of his life. That life ended shortly after Smith asked GPD officers to take him to the hospital, as described in the Dec. 11 article “Hogtying, homicide and humanity: DOJ document warns about restraint that killed Marcus Deon Smith.”
Rev. Kennedy can be seen in the YouTube video “Pastor angrily ‘dedicates’ song to Greensboro police chief at city council meeting,” in which his impromptu performance is met with looks of unease from several council members. He also said, “we will protest at your houses, we will protest at your churches, we will protest and call for a boycott in the city of Greensboro.”
Although not the first pastor to accuse the council of racism, Rev. Kennedy is the only one to have been played by an Oscar-winning actor. Forrest Whitaker portrayed him in the 2018 film Burden, about reformed Klansman Mike Burden and the notorious Redneck Shop (its actual name) in Laurens.
Nineteen other speakers called upon the council to recommend that city manager David Parrish fire Chief Scott. These included Dr. Daron Mitchell, pastor of AME Zion church and president of the Pulpit Forum; Steve Allen, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church; Ed Whitfield, co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities (who prefaced his speech with “I promise I will not sing”); Rev. Wesley Morris. pastor of Faith Community Church; and Rev. Nelson Johnson, executive director of the Beloved Community Center.
The final speech was from newcomer Te’Von Henderson, who thanked the council for “the work that you have done,” then asked Michelle Kennedy what the “next realistic steps” were. “If the vote is in favor of having an independent investigation,” she replied, “then we go about the business of obtaining whoever that body is going to be, and allow that process to happen, and wait for the results to come back, so that we can take whatever action based on that, and to share it as transparently as we can with the community.”
Several audience members expressed skepticism and disapproval when the mayor talked about her own anguish over Smith’s death. “[Vaughan] needs to just listen and let the family do the grieving,” muttered one person behind me at the meeting.
After Vaughan said “I would love to find a way to resolve this,” someone shouted “fire Chief Scott!” Vaughan responded “I don’t interrupt you! Don’t interrupt me!”
Tensions escalated after Mary Smith, mother of the deceased, spoke from the audience, expressing skepticism over the mayor’s claims of having agonized over her son’s death, and asking why, if that was so, the mayor had previously claimed the police did nothing wrong.
The mayor shouted “did you hear what I just said?” and Mary Smith shouted back “Did you hear what I just said?”
District 2’s Goldie Wells then addressed Mary Smith. “It’s your son, but we have protocol for meetings. Now the mayor is the leader of this meeting, and she’s asked to speak, and we should give her that respect.”
A young woman on the right side of the audience rose and shouted, “We have listened to her speak since September! You have silenced people in this city since September! This man is dead!”
Both Vaughan and Wells made repeated calls to have the young woman removed. “It is about respect,” Wells said. “And African – and young people have to learn to respect.” This exchange occurs at 1:30:36 on the city video.
Len Butler, brother of Marcus Smith, shouted: “Did y’all respect my brother?” The mayor shouted, “Please be quiet, or we’ll have you removed!” Wells shouted “Protocol, protocol!”
At that point, District 3’s Justin Outling, who’d been silent the entire time, rose and left without comment or explanation, and did not return. Meanwhile, the Rev. Wesley Morris walked to the agitated young woman threatened with ejection and hugged her, speaking quietly. She then left the room.
A little over two hours into the meeting, Suber addressed Nancy Vaughan. “Ms. Mayor, you say you think about this, you think about this, but imagine us! I watched the video; my dad watched the video, my other two brothers, only my mom hasn’t watched it. Imagine seeing your sibling die. Just give me a little bit of pity for that right now.”
She turned to Michelle Kennedy. “Michelle, you knew him for years, you knew what type of person he was, you knew he did not pose a threat to these officers, he did not deserve to die this way. We will be out of you guys’ hair if you can just give us justice. We hate coming up here.”
While Suber did not address Marikay Abuzuaiter by name, she said her mother wanted her to mention the at-large representative’s statement at the Dec. 4 city council meeting, in which Abuzuaiter said that it might have been necessary to hog-tie Marcus Smith because the designer drug “Molly” may have given him “superhuman strength.”
“There were too many professionals on scene for my brother to die,” Suber said. “Nobody says, stop guys, his breathing is changing, hold on, he’s not sounding right. Nobody said anything. Nobody stopped this lynching, all of these officers on top of this one man. And they literally folded him like a piece of paper to toss in the trash.”
She then asked “how many RIPP hobble restraints was done successfully before my brother? Has it ever been done?”
“The RIPP Hobble device had been used for 10 years,” Vaughan replied. “It had been used many times a month; it has been used hundreds of times.”
Someone in the audience shouted a question asking if it had previously been used to attach the subject’s ankles to their wrists while they were placed face-down on their belly.
“Excuse me,” Vaughan said. “Do not speak, or I will have you removed. But the RIPP hobble device had been used hundreds of time a year, for 10 years.”
“We just want to know what kind of justice is going to be done on my brother,” Suber said. “That’s what we want to know.”
“I can’t answer your questions this evening,” Vaughan said.
“Maybe the independent investigation will bring some of these things out,” Wells replied. “I think we’re so divided that even when we say we’re trying to do what you’d like us to do, you’re still not satisfied.”
“The division was already here,” said Mary Smith from the audience.
“I’m not saying you brought the division, I’m saying the city was already divided,” Wells said. “We’re sitting here, and we listen, and we’ve been called everything but a child of God. I’ve never been called a demon before in all my life.” She was referring to a speech from the podium by Billy Belcher of the Working-class and Homeless Organizing Alliance, who said “the demons torturing Marcus Smith’s family are the city council of Greensboro,” referring to their unwillingness to criticize Chief Scott, much less recommend his dismissal.
Wells suggested there were no immediately forthcoming answers. “If we knew the magic, we could wave a magic wand, and it could all be settled so that it satisfied you and we could pull the city together. But we don’t have it, and that’s what we’re trying to tell you.”
“And that’s supposed to be comforting to me?” Suber asked.
“I can’t say if it’s comforting to you,” Wells said. “I’m just giving my answer, and whether you accept that answer or not, that’s you and perception is reality.”
Suber turned back to Kennedy. “Michelle, you know the love we had for Marcus, and I kind of feel you had a little love for Marcus as well, because you grew to know him, So I just want you to stand up for Marcus if it’s in any way possible.”
The next speaker from the floor, Hester Petty of Democracy Greensboro, took Abuzuaiter to task for the comments she allegedly made elsewhere. “Stop repeating the same falsehoods that Chief Scott cooked up about what happened on Sept. 8. The EMT did not make the decision about restraining Marcus during transport. Officer [R.R.] Duncan made the decision to transfer Marcus in his patrol car before EMS had arrived on the scene, and Officer Duncan made the decision to use the RIPP hobble before he talked to the EMTS. The police did not follow the GPD directives. And lastly, Chief Scott himself, in an interview, said that the manufacturers’ guidelines were followed. But the manufacturer clearly states never hog-tie a prisoner. So please stop spreading these falsehoods.”
At the end of the public comments, Johnson suggested that an independent investigation might not be by the city council. “Because there are people who, whatever we did, would not trust it.” Instead, she suggested it should be done by “an entity considered trustworthy by the majority of the people.”
Hightower suggested that “the Charlottesville investigation” could be a model for how to proceeding. “Who did they use and how did they go about it? I think we need to look at that particular model and go about it. With haste. We’re already six months into this.”
She was referring to the independent investigation conducted by the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, after the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in 2017. In an earlier speech from the floor, Rev. Wesley Morris proposed an investigation modeled on the Charlottesville one, that exposed misconduct from the Charlottesville police department and resulted in the resignation of its chief.