At least the meetings of the Greensboro City Council are consistent and the Tuesday, Jan. 8 meeting at 5:30 in the Council Chambers fit the bill.
Speakers ran long over the time they are allotted. There was be a lot of yelling and catcalling from the audience and general mayhem from a small group of people who appeared to be there for no other reason than to be disruptive.
The first meeting of the month the City Council conducts no business, but holds a long public hearing where speakers are given five minutes to speak about the topic of their choosing. The City Council has a policy, which it doesn’t always follow, of not engaging with the speakers. Many of the speakers talked about how the City Council had been silenced. But when councilmembers tried to speak at this meeting they were often interrupted and shouted down.
The focus of the meeting was once again the death of Marcus Deon Smith on Sept. 8 after being in police custody and about 20 speakers spoke on that topic.
Police first encountered Smith in the 100 block of North Church Street where he was running in and out of traffic in a confused and highly agitated state. After closing the street to traffic, police officers managed to coax Smith into the back of a police car but when he started beating on the windows and then appeared to be trying to kick the windows out, police got him out of the car. The Emergency Medical Technician at the scene insisted that Smith be restrained before she would transport him to the hospital. At that point police handcuffed Smith and used what is officially called a “Ripp Hobble” to bind his ankles and with a strap and tether his ankles to his wrists behind his back. Shortly after the restraints were in place, police officers noted that Smith had stopped breathing. The restraints were removed, Smith was placed on a gurney and transported to the hospital where he died a short time later.
The official cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest due in part to the restraints but also due to a combination of illegal drugs and alcohol, and cardiovascular disease. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide because it was not from natural causes.
After a thorough investigation, Doug Henderson who was them Guilford County District Attorney ruled that there was no basis for criminal charges against the police for their handling of the incident. Henderson in the letter to Police Chief Wayne Scott stated, “The overwhelming showing based on all of the investigative materials presented to this Office demonstrates that these officers meant to help and not to hurt Mr. Smith.”
However, the speakers at the City Council meeting repeatedly called for Scott to be fired because his officers killed Smith and he tried to cover it up. One speaker talked of a conspiracy between Scott, City Manager David Parrish and Henderson.
Some called for Scott to be fired because a press release that was sent out shortly after Smith died was inaccurate.
Many of the speakers are organized and make the same talking points over and over again, using the exact same phrases that they read from their smartphones.
What made this meeting different is that some of Smith’s family from South Carolina and their attorney attended and spoke at the meeting.
Smith’s sister Kimberly Smith Suber spoke from the podium and started by asking, “Who is silencing each one of you?”
She said, “Greensboro took my brother.”
She said, “We buried my brother with a lie. We didn’t know what happened to him.”
And added, “He died with grace and dignity something you guys don’t have.”
Mary Smith, the mother of Marcus Smith, began by asking the City Council from the audience, “Will we get justice for Marcus Smith.”
She then asked if the program to hire mental health workers to assist the police department could be named in honor of her son Marcus Deon Smith.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan replied, “Absolutely.”
Vaughan also noted that in response to the incident the police had restricted the use of the Ripp Hobble so it was no longer used except to bind a person’s ankles. Vaughan also asked Mary Smith to come to the podium to speak, which she did, bringing her attorney, her daughter and others along with her.
Mary Smith said, “My son died for no reason. I don’t see anyone here standing up and saying we are going to get justice for Marcus.”
Both Mary Smith and Suber said that there had been a cover-up and that the city had lied about how Marcus Smith died.
Vaughan said, “I don’t believe there were cover-ups.” She noted that the city was going to make improvements to the police department using mental health professionals.
Suber replied, “How is that going to help us? That’s going to help Greensboro that’s not going to help us.”
Councilmember Goldie Wells tried to talk to Mary Smith about grief and anger, but didn’t get very far before she was interrupted.
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson also offered her condolences, but was cut short.
Mary Smith finished by saying, “We will return and in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back.”
Suber mentioned a civil suit and there is every indication that the Smith family intends to file a lawsuit against the city over the death of Marcus Deon Smith.