Fans know exactly where Will Smith came from thanks to the intro lyrics to his song “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” While he was “West Philadelphia, born and raised,” he said he felt “occupied” by the city’s police officers, who called him the “N” word on numerous occasions. The 51-year-old appeared on the On One with Angela Rye podcast on July 7 and told his political commentator pal about how police “moved with impunity” through the neighborhoods during his youth.
“I grew up in Philadelphia. I grew up under Mayor Rizzo in Philadelphia,” Will stressed. “He went from the chief of police to becoming the mayor, and he had an iron hand.” Frank Rizzo served as police commissioner from 1968 — the year Will was born — to 1971, and was Philly’s mayor from 1972 to 1980. He strongly opposed desegregation in the city’s schools and was known for his tense relationship with the city’s Black community, where police brutality was rampant.
“I’ve been called n****r by the cops in Philly on more than 10 occasions. The police when I was growing up moved with impunity in Philly. I understand what its like to be in those circumstances with the police, to feel like you’ve been occupied. It’s an occupying force,” Will recalled, adding he “got stopped frequently.”
“White kids were happy when the cops showed up, and my heart always started pounding,” Will revealed. “There’s a part of this that people who don’t grow up in it, you just can’t comprehend. You just can’t comprehend what it feels like to live in an occupied territory,” the I Am Legend star explained.
Will is so proud of how the Black Lives Matter rallies swept America and the world following the horrifying May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers. “We are in a circumstance that we’ve never been in 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?’ We’ve never been there before.”
The Bad Boys for Life star added that, “You got to be careful not to be consumed by your own rage, and that’s something that I’ve worked really hard on. Peaceful protests put a mirror to the demonic imagery of your oppressor. I was really encouraged by how powerfully this generation was able to hold that mirror. And then the response of the world seeing and responded. It was painful to watch, but I was deeply encouraged by the innate connectivity of the protesters globally. And we’ve never been there before.”
Will is so happy to have witnessed the peaceful uprising, as he revealed, “I am pledging my unending devotion to the evolution of my community and the evolution of my country, and ultimately the world, towards the greatest harmony that we’ll be able to create. I am happy to be alive during this time, and to serve.”