Born in Washington, DC, on January 2, 1988, Alonzo Smith was a father of three children, and a father figure to the many children for whom he was a teacher's aide at Accotink Academy -- a therapeutic school located in Springfield, Virginia. He is deeply missed by his students, because on November 1, 2015, 27-year-old Smith was killed by private security guards known as "Special Police."
"At his school, they called him a master of his trade. He was very loved by his children and staff as well," Beverly Smith, Alonzo's mother, says. "He had the gift for gab, very likeable and also very handsome, and he knew it."
Alonzo was raised by Beverly in a single-parent household. "He was a very bright and active child," Beverly remembers. He was always eager to take charge and work. "I would remember when Alonzo was four or five years old.... One day he asked the maintenance guy if he could give him a job," Beverly says. The maintenance man consulted with her, and agreed that Alonzo could help him fix a neighbor's doorknob.
"Alonzo [woke] up early, asked me how he looked for his first day of work," Beverly laughs, recalling Alonzo that day. As he grew up, Alonzo always held down a minimum of at least two jobs. In addition to working at the school, Alonzo also modeled part time, at the time of his death.
Alonzo grew up with an older sister, who currently works as a model and actress in New York, and a stepsister who resides in DC. Beverly raised Alonzo and his sister in Maryland and Southeast DC in the Eastern Market area.
"He had some very challenging years as a teenager, and he overcame quite a few challenges and became a very productive citizen in society," Beverly says. "I was very proud of him and his accomplishments."
Alonzo attended Morgan University, where he had completed his associate's degree and was about to go back for his bachelor's in social work. In his spare time, he also made money modeling.
In his social work pursuits, Alonzo focused on youth.
"He had always taken an interest in teenagers," Beverly says. "I guess having some challenges as a teenager himself, he wanted to reach out to other youth, and he was very successful in doing that." Alonzo worked with some of the neediest.
Although he continued working in Virginia, Alonzo moved back home with his mother to help her out in what would be the last year of his life. "I'm a retired worker. I looked forward to every morning, sitting up with him, talking about his day and the children. I'm very grateful that the last year of his life was spent with me," Beverly says.
Beverly misses being around him every morning. "I just really miss his presence and talking to him about his future and the things he wanted to do in life. He was just so full of life. He was very intelligent. I remember him getting interviewed for jobs; by the time he'd get off the phone, I'd be like, 'Boy, I wanna hire you!'" Beverly laughs.
A Murder Disguised as a Heart Attack
In the early morning hours of November 1, 2015, Alonzo was at the Marbury Plaza Apartment Complex. Around 4 am, some neighbors saw him running and heard him screaming, "Help! Help! they [the special officers are] trying to kill [me]."
"The neighbors called the police and said an assault was [taking place]. When police arrived on the scene, they found [Alonzo] face down [in] a stairwell, unresponsive," Beverly says.
One of the special officers -- privatized officers hired by the apartment complex -- had Alonzo handcuffed, and one of the special officers had his knees on his back, stopping him from breathing. "That can be seen on YouTube as well -- unfortunately, my son was [one of] the first victim[s] on body cam," Beverly says. Alonzo's was the first body cam footage that was shown to the public as part of a DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) pilot program.
Beverly isn't sure what Alonzo was doing at the apartment complex; she suspects visiting a friend, and she doesn't know why Alonzo felt as if he were in danger. Alonzo was knocking on doors asking for help; he had not committed a crime and had no weapons. The Special Police officers claim that Alonzo was walking around "bizarrely."
"They said, 'Oh, he's bizarre, I think he's on PCP.' There were no PCP found in his system," Beverly says. She says that restraints were also put on her son's ankles, while he was not breathing, and he was not resuscitated correctly.
"I wasn't contacted until 36 hours later [after the incident occurred]. They said they couldn't find [me].... That's impossible. I live five minutes away from that apartment complex," Beverly says. She did not know the whereabouts of her son during that entire time.
"I was very upset and still am. They actually denied me the opportunity of feeling my son's warm body one last time," Beverly explains.
According to reports, Alonzo died at a hospital 10 minutes away from Beverly's home. Beverly claims that Alonzo actually died on the scene rather than at the hospital. "When there is a police-involved killing, law enforcement takes a different approach ... it's an automatic attempt to cover up," Beverly says.
Beverly knew something was up almost immediately when she hadn't heard from her son. The last conversation she had had with him was via text message on Friday. She attempted to reach him again on Sunday, but he didn't respond. Monday, he still hadn't responded. "Everyone knows my son loves to take selfies, and when there were no Facebook selfies posted, I began to get worried," Beverly says.
"[Around] 7:20 pm that evening -- Monday evening ... two Seventh District investigators knocked on my door, in plain clothing. I let them in. Before they even said anything, I asked them, 'What happened to my son?'" Beverly says.
Both investigators then looked at each other and showed Beverly a picture of Alonzo, asking if he was her son. They then said they were sorry to inform her, but her son had been in an altercation with two Special Police Officers, and he had passed.
"I said, 'What do you mean? Was he shot?'" Beverly explains. The Metropolitan police then continued to tell her that he was in an altercation with Special Police and had passed.
"It led me to believe that the police department and someone from the medical examiner's office were working together," Beverly says.
The coroner ultimately said that a heart attack was the cause of death, yet Beverly claims that Alonzo's death was a homicide -- as she believes it was at the hands of someone else, and it was also ruled a homicide by the DC office of the medical examiner. "The report revealed that my son had been hemorrhaging on the C2 area of his neck and also in two areas in his back. My son was [in a] chokehold," Beverly says.
She didn't get to see the body until a week later. "My son had massive swelling. One of his eyes was swollen, [and] his neck had massive swelling, particularly on the right said," Beverly describes. It appeared to her that something could have broken his neck on the right side.
"My son was definitely [in a] chokehold. [The officer] put [his] whole body weight on my son's back -- I know, he got to be over 200 pounds. My son was only about 150 pounds," Beverly says.
The coroner's report lied and stated that Alonzo weighed 193 pounds. This was done, in Beverly's opinion, to set up a scenario in which her son's weight was close to his killer's weight. That he was a large, aggressive Black man, a brute.
Before Alonzo was killed, Beverly knew of police killings, and she believed that police departments across the country were corrupt. "I knew, of course, [of] Freddie Grey, Michael Brown -- I knew about how these officers murder unarmed Black and Brown children at a disproportionate rate with impunity. I already knew about that history of law enforcement, but I had never dealt with it until it hit my family," Beverly says.
Blackout Investigations and Security Services, which managed the security guards complicit in Alonzo's death, had a history of misconduct prior to his death. "They had already had numerous complaints of being overzealous. This was not the first time that they had acted aggressively with residents there," Beverly says. There had been many complaints -- particularly in the Marbury Plaza apartment complex in which Alonzo was killed -- over the past few years, leading up to Alonzo's death.
"I'm Still Seeking Justice for My Son"
Alonzo was not only adored by his mother, but also by his three children -- a 4-year-old and two 8-year-olds. He was a loving sibling, and his sisters are really struggling with his passing.
"His older sister is still in denial," Beverly says. "It's been hard for them. It has compelled me to become a community activist against police brutality."
Beverly now speaks at numerous rallies and facilitates a grief and healing support group that she founded, called Circle of Love and Support (COLS).
"I facilitate these meetings every month for survivors, parents, siblings, families and friends of people who have been murdered by police and intercommunity violence, but also anyone who has suffered a loss of a loved one," Beverly explains.
Beverly, calm and eloquent, is able to do this emotional work because of her faith and large support network. "I have a phenomenal community of support, and I rely on my faith in God," she says. "I have several organizations that [have] been absolutely a pillar in my life -- Pan-African Community Action (PACA) [is one]. The organization was founded as a result of my son's murder," Beverly continues. The organization also holds political education sessions that address specific topics, such as the relationship between white supremacy and policing.
"The other organization is the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, which is a group of mothers who have lost their children through police brutality and/or community violence. We support each other in numerous ways," Beverly says. Black Lives Matter has also been instrumental in uplifting the "Justice for Zo" campaign, which means justice for Alonzo.
Beverly fights daily for justice for her son with these organizations.
"Justice for me, is if the special police officers be held accountable," she says. "My son's case was given to the grand jury in December 2015. In June, 2017, the US attorney general returned a non-indictment verdict. Therefore, the only other avenue to obtain justice was to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Alonzo's children."
Blackout Investigations employs special police officers, so is essentially a privatized police force. They are not exactly full police officers, and are closer to security guards. However, they are armed and able to make arrests on the perimeter of where they are employed.
"So, actually they can't really make an arrest. They can detain and pass them over," Beverly explains. That did not happen with Alonzo.
Beverly is constantly speaking, writing to city officials and discussing how the local police officers incorrectly performed CPR on her son. She talks about how there was no defibrillator present. "I also talk about the tactic as far as having the knee on the back, chokehold, excessive use of force and lack of training. All of those issues, were in the mayor's proposals [to reform policing]. It's been almost a year, and I haven't heard anything," Beverly says.
She has written to the mayor's office, published open letters and is committed to continuing to write these letters until she receives a response.
"Until my last breath, I will relentlessly fight for justice for my son and all victims of police brutality," Beverly assures.
Once, Beverly was canvassing for PACA. She was going door to door to get answers regarding her son's death, as well as to get the community involved in PACA's work. She talked to a woman whose child Alonzo's work had impacted, and she told Beverly, "I know your son. Your son was my son's teacher. Your son changed my son's life. When my son started [at] the school, he didn't have good communication skills. He didn't know how to take the bus, but since your son was my son's teacher, he does all of those things now very well." The woman then called her son over.
"This young guy must have been 14 years old, stood probably five-ten, and my son stood five-four, but the kids really loved and respected him," Beverly says.
Many of Alonzo's students spoke at his funeral. They shared that, to them, Alonzo was more than just a teacher; that he was one of them. He understood what they were going through.
"My son had touched all of these children's lives," Beverly says. "Even on a mural, [and] on some of the letters, the kids would say, 'Mr. Smith, we wanna be good for you. We miss you. We love you, Mr. Smith.'"