Activist who acknowledged helping flip police car during 2020 protest sentenced to 1 year in prison

Nov 28, 2023, 2:50 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A well-known west Philadelphia activist who acknowledged having helped overturn a police car during 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd has been sentenced to a year in prison.

Anthony Smith was sentenced Tuesday following a guilty plea in June to a federal charge of obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder, which included aiding and abetting an arson, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Smith acknowledged having helped others flip a vacant Philadelphia police car over outside City Hall on May 31, 2020. After someone fired a road flare into the vehicle, sending it up in flames, Smith then threw a piece of paper into the blaze, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Juan Sánchez heard emotional pleas in a packed courtroom from family, friends and ex-students of the former social studies teacher who asked him not to send Smith to prison. Sánchez praised them for coming to court and lauded Smith’s community work and “passion for advocacy” but said such leadership “comes with a heavy price.”

“You failed, in that regard, all of us,” he said. “Your influence was used in a negative way and impacted public safety.”

Smith told Sánchez his actions were “immature and emotional,” and that he acted as a follower that day.

Smith was sentenced to a year and a day in prison as well as two years of probation, less than the 30 months or more prosecutors had recommended, citing sentencing guidelines, and far less than terms meted out to two co-defendants, the Inquirer reported.

Defense attorney Paul Hetznecker pointed out that his client had spent three years on house arrest and the felony conviction bars him from teaching for 10 years. He said justice “is not served” by incarcerating Smith, calling his actions “a bad moment in his life against a lifetime of altruism.”

Another defendant, Khalif Miller, was sentenced in April to 61 months in prison and Carlos Matchett to 46 months. Two other defendants who pleaded guilty to setting fire to cars during the demonstration were sentenced to shorter terms: Ayoub Tabri to 364 days and Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal to 2½ years.

Smith’s plea came a few months after Philadelphia officials announced a $9.25 million settlement over lawsuits filed by him and other activists challenging the police response to the protests and civil disorder following Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Officials said in March that the settlement would be distributed among 343 plaintiffs in connection with police actions during the protests that erupted in west Philadelphia and along Interstate 676 in the city center. A grant will also provide $500,000 to $600,000 for mental health counseling for west Philadelphia residents.

Videos of Philadelphia police firing tear gas on June 1, 2020, at dozens of protesters on I-676 were spread widely on social media, and officials were criticized over reaction to unrest in and around a west Philadelphia business corridor that is the heart of a predominantly Black neighborhood. Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw faced harsh criticism in two audits of the planning and response to the protests.

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Activist who acknowledged helping flip police car during 2020 protest sentenced to 1 year in prison