About Mark Smith, the man with an intellectual disability who was punched by teenagers in a sickening video that went viral.
Like many people, I couldn’t shake what I saw in those 30 seconds, the sight of a smiling, trusting man who never anticipated the sucker punch, caught in painful slow motion. The betrayal that washed over his face as teenagers laughed at his pain.
“Ow,” you can hear him say as he clutches his face before another teen goes in for a second punch.
For a while, all we knew of the man in the video was that his name was Mark and that he worked at a ShopRite in Cheltenham. A coworker posted a copy of the video to Facebook to help identify the kids who ambushed him.
I wondered if the man was hurt, if he was getting the care and support he needed, if he knew how many people wanted to do something, anything, for him.
He wasn’t easy to find. Only after I met Mark Smith did it occur to me that he didn’t want to be found, at least not by someone asking too many questions about something he doesn’t want to talk about.
At first he denied being a victim, Bishop Leonard Goins said when we spoke at his Chestnut Hill Church on East Chelten Avenue.
“Nobody hit me,” Smith, who loves boxing, told his pastor. “Nobody beat me. No, no, no.”
When Goins took his phone out to show Smith the video, Smith pushed the bishop’s hand away.
Do you blame him? asked Pam Pendleton, his caretaker for the last four years. Like Goins, she found out about the assault from social media.
She said Smith is getting the care he needs, including therapy. He lives with Pendleton and her two children.
Pendleton has been touched by people who want to help, but people showing up unannounced at her doorstep have also spooked her. She’s considered moving.
What’s disturbed her most are the people suggesting Smith’s movements should be limited, for his own protection. He’s worked hard to gain his independence.
“Why should he be punished for something other people did?” Pendleton asked.
She’s right. Good intentions shouldn’t trump Smith’s privacy — or his rights.
Police said the two youths who hit Smith, a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, have been charged with criminal conspiracy, simple assault and reckless endangerment of another person. Two others, ages 13 and 15, who stood by and laughed, will not be charged.
When I met Smith at the church on Saturday, about three weeks had passed since he was blindsided by the attack on a nearby sidewalk.
He wore a big smile and a Pittsburgh Penguins T-shirt, though he’s a big fan of all of Philly’s teams. He seems to like the attention, but not the reason behind it.
He’s at home at the church. When not working, Smith watches for the pastor’s white van and heads over as soon as he sees it to hang out and help however he can. He goes to adult Sunday school and though it may seem like he’s not engaged in the discussion, Goins said he’ll suddenly say something that makes it clear he’s been listening all along.
“He knows his Moses,” the bishop said, chuckling. A few years ago, the pastor made Smith an honorary deacon.
People have set up several GoFundMe pages for Smith. Pendleton created one — she doesn’t know the people behind the others. It seems it’s best to give directly to him through the church.
At 5 p.m, Saturday, the church is throwing Smith a party. Everyone is welcome, but must RSVP at 215-991-9830.
Inside the church, Smith and I talked about boxing — his money is on Floyd Mayweather against UFC champion Conor McGregor. We talked about his taste in sneakers — he used to say he was a Jordans guy, but lately he’s thinking he wants a pair of Stephen Curry sneakers. We talked about his birthday this Friday. It’s a big one. He’ll be 40.
What we didn’t talk about is the assault. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said flatly.
But he let me take another video, one that I hope will overshadow the last.
Smith, giving a thumbs up sign, has a message for everyone: