His friends and activist peers say the charges are a fabrication — and they gathered en masse Friday morning to “humanize” the man that they believe has been falsely accused as part of a political stunt.
“He’s nonviolent,” said Smith’s cousin, Devon Gooden. “He’s never been anyone who would be of the character that sets cars on fire or do anything crazy. I think he speaks with his pen.”
Huddled under a gazebo at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, speakers painted Smith, a North Philadelphia social studies teacher, as an ardent activist, caring educator, and empathetic friend. Before a crowd of at least 100 supporters, they forcefully rejected the notion that Smith could be involved in the crimes alleged by federal authorities.
“It’s almost unbelievable how selfless and caring he is,” said Jasmine Peake, a friend who met Smith in college. “His love for his community, his family, and his friends is insurmountable and unconditional.”
Peake said Smith splits time between preparing lesson plans for his students at YouthBuild Charter School and doing community service. Speakers highlighted Smith’s efforts as part of a group that hands out weekly meals in West Philadelphia.
“Sometime it seems like he’s in three or four places at once,” Peake said.
It does seem Smith’s fingerprints are all over the protests that erupted in Philadelphia this summer following police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis.
He’s the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that alleges Philadelphia police used undue force when they fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters along the city’s 52nd Street corridor.
More recently, Smith earned kudos in Philadelphia Magazine for his work with the organization Philly for REAL Justice.
On Wednesday, Smith was one of four men arrested and charged in connection with the alleged torching of a Philadelphia police car during the George Floyd protests.
The indictment does not say how Smith is connected to the alleged incident, and lays out few details.