GREENSBORO — One year to the day after Marcus Deon Smith was hogtied by police and later died, about 50 people gathered on the same hot downtown street to remember his life and build a movement calling for change after his death.
Smith's mother and sister drove three hours from South Carolina to join the street ceremony in the 100 block of Church Street between East Friendly and East Market streets where Smith encountered police in the early morning of Sept. 8, 2018.
Smith's mother, Mary Smith, said before the gathering that even after a year, the loss of her son is still raw. "One year feels like day one," she said. "It still feels the same."
Kim Suber, Smith's sister, said she and her family are "still lost, still confused with unanswered questions."
Standing in a semi-circle on the sidewalk a few hundred feet from where the N.C. Folk Festival was wrapping up its three-day run, the group sang songs, prayed and spoke about what many consider an act of violence by police against Smith.
"We are making the transformation of a street into an alley of justice," The Rev. Wesley Morris told the group.
Police encountered Smith on Church Street as he was running erratically in and out of slow-moving traffic after the first night of Folk Festival concerts last year, asking for help and saying people were trying to kill him.
Last fall the city released footage of video from cameras worn on officers' uniforms during the incident.
The video includes scenes of police placing Smith in a car. Smith became agitated in the car and police opened the door. As he rushed out police put him face down on the pavement.
Moments later, police tied Smith's hands to his feet behind him.
Smith gasped for breath and within minutes was motionless.
Smith, 38, died of cardiopulmonary arrest caused by a variety of factors including "prone restraint" at the hands of police as well as a combination of drugs, alcohol and cardiovascular disease, the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said in an autopsy report, which ruled the death a homicide.
"I've seen my brother die," Suber told the group. "I've seen the footage."
Suber and other speakers say the current administration of Police Chief Wayne Scott bears responsibility for Smith's death. With Scott's retirement coming in 2020, Suber called on the city to "get the right people in place so no one has to go through what we've been through."
"Listen to me when I say this," she added, "we will not go anywhere until we have justice for Marcus Deon Smith."
Mary Smith asked the group: "How can Greensboro have such wonderful people and have such a corrupt police department?"
A legal team filed a federal lawsuit in April on behalf of Smith's parents against the city of Greensboro, eight Greensboro police officers, Guilford County and two Guilford County paramedics. It alleges police caused Smith's death and the paramedics "failed to promptly attend to his serious medical needs."
The Greensboro City Council had discussed investigating Smith's death before the lawsuit was filed but tabled that plan and has remained silent on the matter since then.
On Sunday, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson quietly appeared at the gathering and left without comment before it was over.
The Rev. Nelson Johnson, a longtime civil rights advocate, led the assembly Sunday and publicly thanked Yvonne Johnson for attending.
"It's not often that they show up at places like this," he said.
The city and the county in June filed requests to dismiss the Smith Family's lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Briefs for the city and police officers said that the hogtying restraint was not excessive and that courts have never ruled that use of such a device is unconstitutional. Briefs on behalf of the county paramedics said they did not violate their responsibilities because they were responding as they should under intense pressure.
But lawyers for the Smiths in July court filings asked the court to deny those requests. They argued that evidence and case law exists to the contrary, that paramedics could have intervened when they saw police officers binding Smith's hands to his feet behind his back. They argued further that police had plenty of opportunities to see that Smith was in the midst of a mental-health crisis, was asking for help and posed no threat that warranted such restraint.
On Sunday night, some of Smith's friends spoke of the man who was a rapper, a barber and a man who tried to maintain a positive attitude.
The group closed with the song "Lean on Me" as Mary Smith encouraged those gathered to sing and clap.
Before the song, Nelson Johnson said: "We came out today. We're standing up today. And we're not gonna stop until justice comes."