Will Smith is recounting his experience being called racial slurs by police while growing up in Philadelphia. In discussion with Angela Rye on Tuesday's episode of her podcast, On One With Angela Rye. The actor, 51, recalled growing up under Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, whom Smith said had an "iron hand" after moving up to the mayor's office from his position as chief of police.
"I've been called n— by the cops in Philly on more than 10 occasions, right? I got stopped frequently. So, I understand what it's like, you know, to be in those circumstances with the police, to feel like you've been occupied," Smith said. "It's an occupying force." He added that attending a Catholic school in the suburbs allowed him to see "what the disparities are in a really interesting way."
"White kids were happy when the cops showed up, and my heart always started pounding," the Bad Boys actor said. "There's a part of this that people who don't grow up in that you just can't comprehend. You just can't comprehend what it feels like to feel like you live in an occupied territory."
Smith told Rye this was his "first real public conversation since George Floyd's death" in the custody of Minneapolis police. Four officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and Derek Chauvin — were fired and arrested in the wake of massive international protests following Floyd's death. Since then, Black Lives Matter protests have continued across the nation, calling for an end to racial injustice.
"When it happened, I immediately saw the world shifting…I could feel the shift happening, and I immediately went into a state of study," Smith said of Floyd's death. "I could feel that I was going to be called on in a way that was different than anything that had ever happened in my career and in my life, and I just wanted to be prepared to meet the seismic shift of the times."
Smith added the world is now in the circumstances it has never seen before. "The entire globe has stood up and said to the African American people, 'We see you and we hear you. How can we help?'" Smith said. "We've never been there before." As the movement has developed, the actor said he was "deeply encouraged by the innate connectivity of the protestors globally."
"For me, it comes down to, you know, after you get beyond the rage. Rage is justified under oppression," he continued. "It also can be really dangerous. You gotta be careful not to be consumed by your own rage, you know? That's something that I've worked really hard on. And what I loved about the peaceful protest. It's like, peaceful protests put up a mirror to the demonic imagery of your oppressor. And the more still you are in your peaceful protests, the more clear the mirror is to the oppressor for the world to see and for them to see themselves, you know? So, 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."