GREENSBORO — Protesters demanding justice for Marcus Smith feel like their cause has been reenergized now that the fight against police brutality is raging across the country.
About 45 people gathered outside of City Hall on Monday, most toting a sign in honor of Smith, a 38-year-old Black man whose 2018 death while in police custody has drawn comparisons to the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, who is also Black, died while being restrained by Minneapolis police on May 25.
Almost two years ago, outrage on a smaller scale followed Smith’s death when it was discovered that Greensboro police bound his hands and feet behind him.
Smith's family is suing Guilford County, the city of Greensboro, eight officers and two paramedics, alleging they violated the homeless man's constitutional rights by improperly restraining him and failing to treat his medical issues.
A judge ruled in April that several claims in the lawsuit could move forward.
The city and county filed a joint motion that could temporarily stay the next phase of the lawsuit. But last week, a judge denied the motion, meaning the case can proceed.
Meanwhile, “Mondays for Marcus” goes on.
The gathering is new to some. For others, the journey began with their first protest outside City Hall in January 2019.
Hester Petty, a member of Democracy Greensboro, an activist group, recalled a handful of people had converged outside of City Hall, demanding the city settle the Smith family lawsuit and conduct an independent investigation into the policies and procedures of the Greensboro Police Department.
“We kept it up every Monday into that summer,” Petty said.
Over time, interest waned.
“It’s only now with the death of Floyd that people are starting to go ‘daggum, that happened here,'" Petty said.
Petty said the goal of the Monday protests is to remind the City Council and police department that justice “for the homicide of Marcus Smith” has yet to be served.
Sometime during the weekend before Monday's protest, the word "divest" was painted on the sidewalk in front of the Greensboro jail — a reminder that tensions surrounding policing in the city and a desire for change remain high.
Despite the 90-degree heat Monday, protesters showed up with handmade signs, lining the sidewalks in front of City Hall on West Washington Street. The elderly and families with children held their signs higher when cars passed and some drivers honked, a gesture that has come to mean "I stand with you."
For people like Jenni Simon, it was her first time joining the group.
Simon, who attended with her husband, said she brought her 7-year-old son to show him “what being a member of the community means.” She said her family has followed the Smith case since 2018 and believes there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
“The police need to be more open, more transparent,” Simon said. “In general, there are a lot of things that need to change. I think it’s a good time to stand with people and help make that change.”
Floyd’s death sparked a national outcry for a systemic review of police departments and their policies. Proponents for change would like to see department budgets reduced and the money reallocated to other community services that could help reduce crime.
Many have argued that Smith was suffering from a mental health crisis when police encountered him on the night of Sept. 8, 2018. They contend events could have played out differently had a mental health professional responded either on their own or with the accompaniment of police.
Spoma Jovanovic, a communication studies professor at UNCG, said she hopes the national discussion will reach Greensboro.
“It’s a hopeful moment that enough attention is being focused on this issue that we can get the change that we’ve been long asking for,” she said.
Jovanovic, who has regularly attended "Mondays for Marcus" since they began, said she’s grateful to be among the people who keep reminding the city the case isn’t going away.
“We need changes,” Jovanovic said. “The worst thing would be if nothing happened and this died down.”