What Happened to Zo?

Frustrated Family, Supporters Fear Cover Up

Beverly Smith, at home in Ward 8 with homicide paperwork, continues to seek justice for son Zo. Photo: V. Spatz

“Everything is a secret. They still refuse to release the identity of the officers involved in my son’s death,” says Beverly Smith, five months after 27-year-old Alonzo “Zo” Smith died in confusing circumstances at Marbury Plaza in Southeast. 

Around 4 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2015, officers of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) responded to calls of a disturbance. They found Alonzo Smith (then unidentified) unconscious in the custody of Marbury’s security. An MPD body-cam video shows a Blackout Security special police officer (SPO) viewing a cellphone while using knee restraint on Alonzo, who is face-down, hands cuffed behind his back. The MPD officers attempted CPR, but he was pronounced dead an hour later. On Dec. 14 the death was ruled “homicide,” with “compression of the torso” as a “contributing factor.” 

Beverly Smith fears that MPD’s Internal Affairs, which is investigating instead of Homicide, worries more “about covering for those SPOs” than obtaining justice for her son. “We cannot see what they are submitting to the grand jury. So if they want to submit evidence that supports no indictment, they can.” 

Alonzo Smith had been charged with no crime; no weapons or drugs were found. Beverly Smith and her attorney have yet to discover what led to the SPOs’ encounter with Alonzo.

A Poet and a Teacher

Alonzo “Zo” Fiero Smith was born on Jan. 2, 1988, to Alonzo Clemons and Beverly Smith. He was father to Mekhi Cherry, born in 2009. In 2013 Smith published a book of poems written from ages 14 to 22; he was reportedly working on a second volume. He studied social work at Morgan State University and was planning to return to school in January 2016. 

Alonzo had just texted his mother to share excitement about some upcoming modeling work, recalls Beverly, but his true calling appeared to be teaching. He was a co-teacher and dedicated aide at Accotink Academy Learning Academy in Springfield, Va. The school serves students with emotional and learning disabilities. During his three years there he worked in the classroom and in the academy’s Behavioral Crisis Center. A school statement called him “a very kind-hearted teacher who put a smile on everyone’s face and made each day at work very pleasant.” 

The academy held a memorial shortly after the funeral. Months later his mother is still warmed by students’ comments. “The whole school attended – and there wasn’t a dry eye there,” she said in a March interview. Her son connected particularly well with “young people who were troubled like he was,” and a number spoke of him as a father and friend. “That was a proud moment, to hear those kids talk about my son in that manner.” 

That proud moment is surrounded by myriad distressing ones, as a grieving mother battles for justice.

Questions and Support

What little Beverly Smith has learned includes contradictory and incorrect information: paperwork with erroneous date and gender (later corrected); contradictory reports about Alonzo’s condition and treatment. An early claim that SPOs “were trying to save my son’s life,” says Beverly, is “contradicted by the [body-cam] video. They’re worrying about the phone, probably trying to erase something!” 

It all began with an initial determination of “justifiable homicide,” amended after media inquiries and later called an MPD “error.” “The real mistake,” Beverly says now, “was them thinking no one would care about one more black man’s violent death. But they didn’t know who his mother was.” She added, “After my son’s death, I automatically became an activist … I become very knowledgeable” on evidence, accountability, and police-involved deaths of unarmed black men. “I had no choice.” 

Support comes from many quarters. Amnesty International and the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent both demand prompt, independent investigation into Alonzo’s death. Cousin Malcolm Fox and Pan-African Community Action seek a fundamental shift in power, including complete community control of all police. “Unfortunately,” Fox says, “Alonzo’s murder has awakened all of us to a point of mistrust of so-called leaders in the District to include the mayor and police chief.” 

Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May and others call for greater transparency, better training, and accountability for SPOs in response to the case. Maurice Dickens, Ward 8 DC Council candidate and an SPO himself, wants more training and support for SPOs. Specifically, officers in the case “did not follow proper training protocols which resulted in fatality. Quite frankly, the security company ought to be fined and their business closed.” Blackout Security referred inquiries to their attorney, Michael Smith, who did not respond. 

Questions have also been raised about the responsibility of MPD and Marbury. MPD spokesperson Alice Kim says only, “At the moment, we do not have any additional updates and cannot comment on the case as it is still an ongoing investigation.” Marbury Plaza did not respond to a request for comment. 

Virginia Avniel Spatz continues to follow Alonzo’s case and plans additional stories on Marbury Plaza, on community relations with law enforcement, and on SPO certification, licensing, and training in DC.

Alonzo “Zo” Fiero Smith, age seven. Photo: Smith family
Zo in his teaching years. Photo: Smith family

Beverly Smith has found crucial support from groups like National Unity Against Police Brutality and others whose members have lost children to police violence. She stresses that she is surviving on God’s strength and values every prayer and offering of positive energy during this dark time. Supporters are considering an organized prayer network as the six-month anniversary of Alonzo Smith’s death approaches. 


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