Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ Torrey Smith spends day off learning about Charlotte. It isn’t always pretty.

During the season, Carolina Panthers players get one day off a week.

Receiver Torrey Smith makes the most of them.

This week, Smith spent his Tuesday getting to know his new city’s criminal justice and educational systems.

And he wasn’t the only newcomer to Charlotte to do so.

Smith, on behalf of the Players Coalition, met with Charlotte District Attorney Spencer Merriweather at the Mecklenberg County Courthouse to discuss bail reform. New Panthers owner David Tepper joined him.

“I think the one thing you’ll see, which is wonderful for this city, is that (Tepper) is a person who cares about the community,” Smith said. “And it’s not just about the flawed criminal justice system but about the people who are in need in general. He’s very well-educated in that field and he cares a lot about this community.”

Smith also spoke to a juvenile detention center, went to a public defender’s office, and visited Sedgefield Middle School, where long snapper J.J. Jansen joined him. The two heard from a historian about the desegregation/resegregation of Charlotte’s public schools and challenges currently facing the city’s educational systems.

The entire experience was eye-opening, Smith said.

Smith is from the Virginia-Maryland area and started his NFL career in Baltimore, and that’s where the main branch of his charitable organization, the Torrey Smith Family Fund, is located. He most recently lived in Philadelphia. But he wants to continue to have a positive impact in whichever city he lives.

“I think there are a lot of things in Charlotte that I’d like to try to figure out a way to help,” he said. “Unfortunately, we only have Tuesdays to really try to think about that stuff. They have challenges here. “

Smith and his former Eagles teammates actually helped change some legislation in Philadelphia.

“We were able to pass the ‘Clean Slate Act,’ which means folks who had a certain type of misdemeanor, after 10 years their records would clear,” said Smith, whose passion about the topic derives from a mother who made mistakes in her youth and tried to rise past them.

“That’s a huge process for people who made dumb decisions when they were 18, 22, whatever it may be,” he said. “They’re able to break a cycle of poverty because they’re able to get hired, they’re not discriminated against because of their record. And I think the criminal justice system, the thing that we’ve seen and that I know firsthand because of my mother, is when you enter it, it’s really easy to get into and hard to get out.

“Just because you’ve been labeled as a felon — a certain type of felon, now — it shouldn’t be a life sentence. Some folks have done their time and have been productive citizens. But they’re still held back. And that’s a problem.”

Aside from discussing bail reform with Merriweather, Smith got the opportunity to hear a few bail cases throughout the day. He said two people released Tuesday had been there for two weeks because they couldn’t afford to get out.

“They weren’t threats to society,” Smith said. “Yes, they made mistakes and committed crimes. But they weren’t threats to society. So when you see that, you consistently see, no matter what city you’re in, that the bail system is a system that preys on the poor.”

Smith also spent some time with Sheriff-elect Garry McFadden discussing the need for youth detention facility upgrades in Mecklenburg County, and more mental health outreach.

“There are kids there in solitary confinement, which we are learning more and more is terrible for the kids,” he said. “(McFadden) was able to tell us more about what he’s going to do.

“I met a young man yesterday (who) had committed two robberies. But they learned that it all fell apart when he was 13 years old. ... His mother had given him up, and he lived with his grandmother. His grandmother died, so he was basically homeless. He had no food. He went into survival mode. It’s not right to take from other people, but that’s how he (survived).

“So when you learn about those underlying issues, kids that are in there I think it should be more about mental health and rehabilitating folks versus locking them up and keeping them in time out.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue
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