VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Supporters of Antonio Smith are calling for Valdosta's Mayor and Police Chief to resign.
This comes more than a week after Smith sued the police and city for excessive use of force following an incident in February.
”Here is the question for the mayor, given the police treatment of Antonio Smith and Kendrick Johnson, is Valdosta a safe place for black people?” Said Reverend Ferrell Malone, Founder of the Justice Initiative.
An emotional Antonio Smith was in the crowd, comforted by family members, as supporters called for justice in his name outside the Lowndes County courthouse Wednesday.
The group is demanding Valdosta Mayor Scott Matheson and Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan to resign after Smith was injured while briefly detained in a confrontation with police on February 8.
The incident that was caught on camera by body cameras, shows Smith being slammed to the ground. Video, which Smith’s attorney believes, highlights a big problem.
“We want to see a situation where every man, woman, boy, or girl, every person of color can walk down the street, fall asleep in their car, sit in their home without being killed, without being injured, without being mistreated and treated less than a human being. By law enforcement who are charged with who took an oath to serve and protect and that applies to every citizen of the United States,” said Nathaniel Haugabrook, Smith’s attorney.
All the officers involved are still on the job but are named in Smith’s $700,000 federal lawsuit, along with other Valdosta city leaders.
Founder of Justice Initiative, Reverend Ferrell Malone, is calling for policing reforms, as well as community and civilian boards to review the actions of law enforcement. Malone says if the city leaders don’t agree, they will be pushed to step aside.
“I’m calling, not only on Valdosta and Lowndes County but the entire nation. If we can’t negotiate in your suites, we can take it back to your streets,” said Malone.
Shortly after this press conference, Valdosta’s mayor released a video statement discussing new city plans. He also apologized for any incidents resulting in an injury, regardless of who’s at fault.
“A revamp citizen review board, the board will be a representation of our whole community with one person appointed from each council district by their city council representative. These representatives will meet with the police chief and major on a routine basis to discuss police department related topics,” said Mayor Matheson.
He says force was used in .0003 percent of police interaction last year, and physical arrests decreased from then since 2018.
He says city leaders have spoken with leaders of the African American community, and that dialogue is important.