A Hopeful Momentby Chad Bishop
Father of former Vandy football standouts part of peaceful moments with protesters
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s only a 28-second video. What transpired in that video will resonate much longer.
“You see stuff like and it kind of gives you a little hope,” said Joe Spears, a reporter for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Spears’ was in Murfreesboro on May 31 during protests and demonstrations over racial injustice. He happened upon a few of the protest’s organizers who were speaking with two police officers.
One of those officers, lieutenant Demetrius Smith, is the father of former Vanderbilt football standouts Emmanuel Smith and Josh Smith.
“Honestly I wasn’t too surprised because I know my father and I know his standpoints and what he believes in,” Josh Smith said. “He’s a firm believer in if you want to see change you have to be the change yourself.”
In the video, Smith and his colleague talk with demonstrators, exchange contact information and even joke about the use of a bullhorn. It’s a light-hearted scene during an otherwise volatile day.
Spears explained that just 30 minutes prior he witnessed the presence of armored vehicles and the use of tear gas by officials to try to disperse a growing crowd. Spears also explained that a curfew had been enacted for that evening – but many of the protesters had no way of knowing that was the case and were soon to be subject to arrest.
Demetrius Smith helped alert those who were remaining peaceful to the curfew and even offered escorts for demonstrators back to their vehicles so they could depart campus without further incident.
“Not all cops are bad – right now there’s kind of the image that kind of make it seem like every cop is bad,” Emmanuel Smith said. “For him to be out there in the midst of the community and being a positive influence in life is a good thing to see.
“A lot of people know him around Murfreesboro because he’s around a lot of the kids growing up. He’s been positive in the community since we were born with trying to help kids and give back and have a better understanding of what the police are here for – they’re not here to try to scare you or intimidate you, we’re here to help you and be on your side if you need help.”
Great way to see this all end all around @MTSUPolice #Murfreesboro pic.twitter.com/Pe2MPKQIb1
— Joe Spears (@joe_spears7) June 1, 2020
Emmanuel Smith, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, played for Vanderbilt from 2014-17. He started six games at inside linebacker as a senior and made 59 tackles.
Josh Smith, now with the Tennessee Titans, followed his older brother to West End and played for the Commodores from 2015-18. He made 12 starts at outside linebacker during his senior campaign and racked up 61 tackles.
Both of the former Commodores have molded their lives in accordance with their father’s lessons of how to shape the world for the better.
“He’s definitely engrained in me and my brother that if we want to see change, whether it be in the judicial system, whether it be on football teams, whether it be in the classroom – no matter what we’re doing, if you want to see change you have to be that change yourself,” Josh Smith said. “You can’t really wait for a solution, you have to be a part of the solution.
“That’s just what he’s taught us growing up day-in and day-out.”
Demetrius Smith, 49, has been in law enforcement for nearly 20 years – the majority of his sons’ lives. Because of that Josh Smith said he’s fortunate to have the tough conversations about racial inequality and see the viewpoints from different perspectives.
The Smith family has continued to have discussions revolving around the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and David McAtee – among many others. Those discussions are holistic, Josh Smith said, and have included aspects of how Demetrius Smith views an incident as a member of law enforcement, an African-American male and a part of the community.
Demetrius Smith would ask his sons how they see social issues it as part of the nation’s youth. And they would always include the theme of trust in the conversation.
“He’s told us plenty of times that law enforcement can’t protect and serve a community that doesn’t trust them,” Josh Smith said. “His job isn’t just protecting and serving, it’s cultivating a trust within the community that trust goes both ways – we have to trust our community members and the community members have to trust us to protect and serve.
“He’s definitely brought to light to a lot of the discussions that I’m able to have with my friends and loved ones and explain to them different viewpoints and different ways to look at it. I think it’s been a big part of advocating for change and advocating for a new solution.”
Spears recounted how after Demetrius Smith offered to escort protesters back to their vehicles he also suggested making a call over his radio to inform other officers to respectfully allow peaceful protesters to leave the scene without incident. He and his colleague then suggested to take a photo with the demonstrators to remember a moment in time that won’t soon be forgotten.
A moment that gives the Smith brothers tremendous pride.
“Now I feel like the world of people outside the community will be able to see what Demetrius Smith does and what he stands for – leadership and embracing people of different backgrounds and different cultures and just wants to have a better understanding of what’s going on,” Emmanuel Smith said. “That’s just who is and who he has always been ever since I can remember.
“It makes my heart full of joy just to see everybody else can see what we see on a daily basis.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.