Family, friends demand answers on anniversary of police killing Winston Smith in Mpls

People stand in front of a microphone to speak.
Kidale Smith, brother of Winston Smith, speaks as he is embraced by his mother, Tijuana Wilson, and sister Tamara Wilson at a remembrance event at Powderhorn Recreation Center on Friday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Dozens of community members showed up at Powderhorn Recreation Center in south Minneapolis on Friday afternoon to support Winston Boogie Smith’s family, who still have little in the way of details about what transpired when police killed him a year ago

Unlike when police murdered George Floyd in 2020, no footage was publicly released of deputies killing Smith, who was 32. His family on Friday said they believe authorities are withholding video evidence and demanded its release. The deputies involved aren’t facing chargesnor have they even been named, as they were working undercover. 

On Friday, the anniversary of Smith’s death, family, friends and activists renewed their call for transparency and accountability in what happened that day, citing a pattern of police in Minnesota killing Black men and treating others unjustly.

Funeral services for Winston Smith
A person holds a photo of Winston Smith during his funeral services at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis on June 12, 2021.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News 2021

Smith’s mother, brother and sister each took turns giving emotional speeches about their search for answers and a year of hardship and pain since Smith’s death. Also at the gathering were Smith’s father, children and the mothers of his children.

Through tears, Smith’s mother Tijuana Wilson said she doesn’t understand why the deputies killed her son in the way they did. 

“It was hard, and it still is hard to try to go on with my life,” Wilson said Friday.

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Smith’s killing sparked protests, deadly force ‘justified’

Sheriff’s deputies on a U.S. Marshals Service task force shot and killed Winston Boogie Smith, Jr., in the afternoon on June 3, 2021, during what they say was an attempted arrest on a weapons violation.

Smith was inside a parked car in an Uptown Minneapolis parking ramp near W. Lake Street and S. Girard Avenue when he was fatally shot, just after having lunch with Norhan Askar, who he was dating.

A crowd of people gather around for a vigil.
On the day after Winston Smith died, a vigil was held at the parking ramp where he was killed.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images 2021

Officers claimed Smith had a handgun and fired it, and a report of the case said a weapon was found in the car. But the passenger in the car, Askar, said she never saw a gun on Smith or in his vehicle.  

It had been barely a year since police killed Floyd. 

There were days and nights of protest following Smith’s killing, with over 30 arrests made. People barricaded the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street in Uptown, and some area businesses were damaged and looted. Activist Deona Marie Erickson died after a man drove his SUV at high speed into a crowd of protesters gathered on Lake Street.

Despite public uproar, the prosecutor that reviewed the case decided in October that the use of deadly force against Smith was justified.

Family still calling for officers who killed Smith to be named 

Smith’s sister Tamara Wilson said the sudden absence of her brother has broken up their family, who all struggle daily ever since Smith was killed.

“My mom can barely live her life because she lost her son,” Wilson said. “And they just threw their hands up and walked away,” she said, referring to authorities. 

Smith was a father of three, a comedian and musician named after his father, Winston Boogie Smith, Sr. – the nickname “Boogie” a nod to both men being DJs. Smith’s father released a video on Thursday to honor his son, with footage from throughout Smith’s life.

Smith’s oldest daughter, Auvianna Smith, 13, played the role of DJ at Friday’s event in her father’s stead. Music pumped through the community room as people shared food, hugged and danced, remembering Winston Smith.

Kidale Smith, a brother of Winston, said it was difficult for his family to show up Friday and have the strength to speak about something so traumatic. The family said they never heard from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey after Smith was killed, which disappointed them. 

A spokesperson for Frey said Saturday that the mayor did call the family after the shooting but could share few details about the investigation at that time. Frey said officials would work to help the the family find answers, the spokesperson continued.

Kidale said he wants the officers involved to be named, fired and held accountable through an investigation and potential prosecution. He continues to seek answers about his brother’s death and said he’s been working with a lawyer on the case.

“This is far from done,” he said.