|Police officials in Savannah, Georgia, claim Charles Smith had gun and was trying to escape while handcuffed in squad car when officer David Jannot shot him dead. Above, press conference demanding Jannotís arrest. Seated is Smithís mother Penny Nelson.|
City officials were quick to meet with Smith’s family members and other protesters, apparently seeking to head off a repeat of the scene that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in August. In Ferguson, millions across the country and beyond saw several days of popular protests in which demonstrators took the moral high ground in face of a massive police response and anti-working-class contempt from city officials.
“Now that we have buried my brother we can get back to the protests,” Smith’s sister, Janie Smith, told the Militant. She said the killing has united the neighborhood. “People have continued to march and protest even though we have not always been able to be there,” she said.
Police released a video showing Charles Smith being arrested by three city cops while making a purchase at the U.S. Foods convenience store. He is wrestled to the floor, his pants are down and hands cuffed behind his back. He is searched in the store and again outside before being placed in the back of a police car driven by officer Jannot. Two blocks later, out of view of the convenience store camera, cops claim that Smith, still in handcuffs, brought his arms to the front of his body, kicked out the window of the squad car and was shot while attempting to flee. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said a gun was found under Smith’s body.
“That story is an insult,” said Demarius Jackson, 28, a welder, as he left the funeral. “No one can watch the video and believe that lie. If they have a gun, why don’t they say what kind of gun it is. This isn’t the first time a gun has been put on somebody by the cops.”
“It was wrong. The cops were looking to kill him,” Fortasha Jenkins, Smith’s cousin, told the Militant as she left the church.
The media has played up reports about Smith’s run-ins with the law.
“That’s what they always do,” commented Brenda Sears, who works as a restaurant cook. “That’s just assassination of that young man’s character. He didn’t deserve to be shot down like an animal.”
Among those who spoke at the funeral was the owner of the convenience store. Introducing himself only as John, he said, “I knew Mr. D, as Smith was known in the neighborhood, and he was a good person, respectful, and I never had any trouble from him.” Speaking to the Militant as he left the church, the store owner stressed that reports that he had called the cops about Smith were false.
About 100 people gathered near the scene of the shooting on Augusta Street in the west Savannah neighborhood following the funeral where an impromptu rally got started.
“Now that Mr. D has been buried they hope we will go away. But we are going to keep marching until this cop is arrested, prosecuted and put in jail,” said Alicia Blakely, one of the organizers of the protests. She announced a series of marches and meetings for the week.
Lisa Potash contributed to this article.