Police in the United States kill on average more than 1,000 people per year, or about three people every day. The police are responsible for no less than eight percent of all adult male homicide deaths in the U.S. each year. Police murder victims are disproportionately people of color. Black Americans for example are shot at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Latinx people and Indigenous peoples are also killed at disproportionate rates. Police violence in the US is universal and Greensboro is no exception.
On September 8th, 2018, Marcus Deon Smith was downtown attending Greensboro’s annual folk festival. When Smith suddenly began to suffer a mental health crisis, he pleaded with nearby police to take him to the hospital. Eight GPD officers proceeded to hog-tie Smith until he died. The GPD, after reviewing the body camera videos, published two press releases which omitted the fact that Smith was hogtied, and falsely asserted that he simply “collapsed” in police custody. The city continued this lie and cover up until Smith’s family and legal team viewed the body cam and the North Carolina Medical Examiner determined Smith’s death to be a homicide, with the leading cause being that he was hog-tied by the police. Despite this, the city of Greensboro continued to refuse culpability for Smith’s murder, refused to make a reasonable settlement with the Smith family and spent over $1.1 million in taxpayers’ money to absolve themselves of any wrongdoing. The city also attempted to suppress thousands of pages of police reports that revealed 275 incidents of hog-tying that occurred in Greensboro in the four years leading up to Smith’s death.
In response to GPD’s history of police violence and in particular the case of Marcus Smith, a movement emerged in the streets. This movement is made up of over a dozen different local organizations and has fought for a fair settlement, a public apology and transparency in police abuse. After three years of struggle, on February 1 st , the city conceded to the movement and settled a civil suit with the Smith family for $2.57 million. This is certainly a victory for the Movement for Black Lives, and it should be celebrated. However, we should not confuse this with justice. The city is now absolved from telling the truth about their complicity, there is no structural change in policing and the police will go free. The struggle for justice continues.
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Anderson Bean is a North Carolina– based activist and author of the book Communes and the Venezuelan State: The Struggle for Participatory Democracy in a Time of Crisis from Lexington Books.