Have you ever found yourself agreeing to do something, knowing that you were uncomfortable doing it at the time you said you would? That’s the place I found myself in, when I agreed to interview Hinds County District Attorney Robert S. Smith.
Smith and I shared an uncomfortable friendship during my time as director of Media and Communications for the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office…prior to that we were cool and enjoyed a mutual friendship. However, we never fixed our professional differences until this interview.
On a rainy Monday afternoon, not knowing what to expect, I met Smith at his former law office on Valley Street, in the heart of West Jackson. I was determined to gain an understanding and gather background information on his recent indictments in Rankin County and was hopeful that as an added benefit, our time together would allow us an opportunity to talk about the gap that stood between us.
Poised with wisdom, confidence and documents, Smith at the very start of our meeting, opened the conversation, bringing attention to our strained friendship. Both of us acknowledged that politics caused our differences and that we both allowed other people to influence us. That aside it was time for the heavy lifting. To know Smith is to know that he loves to tell stories, draw illustrations in an effort to not only simplify things but to bring whomever he’s speaking with to a greater understanding of truth.
Yellow pad in hand, Smith began to create a chart of history starting in 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the Civil War ended and other stories of slavery and confederate history laced in-between. He then advanced 100 years to 1965 when the voting rights act was signed into law, highlighting the in flux of the Ku Klux Klan and the dreadful sovereignty commission.
What does this have to do with Smith being indicted last month by a Rankin County Grand Jury on two felony and two misdemeanor charges? I’m glad you asked.
The common thread woven in all of the historical stories Smith shared and what he’s facing now is the mindset of white America according to him. “Blacks will never be good enough,” he said. “No matter what we achieve, no matter what we accomplish, no matter how far we’ve come, there is always a ‘but.’”
Smith, 46, of Jackson, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of simple domestic violence and two felony counts one for aggravated stalking and the other robbery. He vehemently denies all of the charges and has evidence according to him that will be shown in court to prove his innocence. “When we
have our day in court this will be proven and most people will be surprised by the sequence of events,” Smith said.
Smith, like many others, believe the reason Attorney General Jim Hood is working this case so aggressively in Rankin County is because he [Hood] knows he would never be able to convict Smith in Hinds County by a jury of his peers. “What you are basically suggesting is that if we get to Rankin County (a county that is predominately white), we can get a conviction,” Smith said with strong determination.”
A small of group of supporters gathered at Smith’s office last month to show their support and to echo the sentiments of moving the case to Rankin County. One of those supporters was community activist and radio talk show host Malcolm Johnson. “This is an outright witch hunt,” Johnson said. “Jim Hood knows that those white folk in Rankin County will try harder and find any little thing to convict Smith on…its a shame and a travesty that Hood is attempting to bring this black elected official down.”
Not Giving Up
Many have suggested that it would be easier for Smith to resign and walk away from another public court battle.
Smith was scheduled to return to court this month due to a judge declaring a mistrial earlier this year in the conspiracy case against him after the jury was unable to come to an agreement.
A big portion of the state’s evidence centered on Smith’s attempts to indict officials who kept him from dismissing charges against Christopher Butler.
While recounting his personal family history, Smith said, “My family has sacrificed too much and was involved in the civil rights movement far too long to just give up…I can’t do that.”
Determined to clear his name, determined to always fight for those that have no voice, determined to seek justice, determined to not accept unfounded charges, Smith presses forward. “I know that there is a lot of noise in the background, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculations as to why the Attorney General is pursuing these charges, but even with all of that, I still believe in justice, I believe in the power of truth and we have the truth on our side,” he said.
Smith understands that every day he goes into the of ce he must focus on the task at hand for the greater good of the coun- ty, while also dealing with his own personal battles.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants and if I don’t speak up for this type of injustice, if I don’t fight…no one will,” he said.