"I got stopped frequently. So I understand what it's like to be in those circumstances with the police," Will Smith said

July 08, 2020 01:55 PM

Will Smith is opening up about his experience with facing prejudice and racism.

On Tuesday, the I Am Legend actor, 51, sat down for a conversation with political commentator and activist Angela Rye on her podcast, On One With Angela Rye. During their discussion, Smith addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and his own experience facing racism at the hands of law enforcement.

"I grew up in Philadelphia," Smith recalled. "I grew up under Mayor Rizzo. He went from the chief of police to becoming the mayor, and he had an iron hand."

"I've been called n----- by the cops in Philly on more than 10 occasions," he added. "I got stopped frequently. So I understand what it's like to be in those circumstances with the police."

He also recalled his experience attending a Catholic school in the suburbs, where he saw first-hand "the disparities" between relationships that white people had with law enforcement versus members of the Black community.

Will Smith
Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty

Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1968. At the time, Frank Rizzo served as Philadelphia police commissioner. Four years later, Rizzo was elected the city's mayor and began to push an anti-desegregation platform.

Earlier this month, a statue honoring Rizzo near City Hall was removed amid national protests against racial injustice and police brutality, NPR reported.

The demonstrations were sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many other Black men and women killed by police.

Black Lives Matter protests, New York, USA
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Smith told Rye he's been excited to see Black Lives Matter protests garnering so much support and recognition around the country and the world.

"We are in a circumstance that we've never been in before," Smith said of the protests. "The entire globe has stood up and said to the African American people, 'We see you and we hear you. How can we help?' We've never been there before."

Smith went on to say they while he understands the "rage" people feel after years of "oppression" from systemically racist institutions and individuals, he noted that "it also can be really dangerous."

"You got to be careful not to be consumed by your own rage, and that's something that I've worked really hard on," he said. "Peaceful protests put a mirror to the demonic imagery of your oppressor. And the more still you are in your peaceful protest, the more clear the mirror is for your oppressor — for the world to see and for them to see themselves."

Smith continued, "I was really encouraged by how powerfully this generation was able to hold that mirror, and then the response of the world seeing and responding. I was deeply encouraged by the innate connectivity of the protesters, globally."

Still, the actor noted that we will still come across "people that have made poisonous conclusions and have false beliefs, and they've got insane narratives running through their minds."

But he's hopeful the next generation will be poised to recognize this "lovelessness" and enact future change.

"I am pledging my unending devotion to the evolution of my community and the evolution of my country, and ultimately the world, towards the greatest harmony that we'll be able to create," Smith said. "I am happy to be alive during this time, and to serve."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.