Nathaniel Smith – 15 yrs. old

March 1, 1973 *

Nathaniel Smith

Black, Male, 15




Boston Police Department

Nathaniel Smith was shot and killed by Boston Police patrolman Thomas Clifford after a car chase.

Police said Clifford pursued what he suspected was a stolen automobile until the vehicle came to a stop in Dorchester. The Globe wrote :

“Police said Smith jumped from the car when Clifford approached, pulled out a 4-inch or 5-inch knife and slashed at the officer. According to police, Clifford then pulled his revolver and shot Smith in the chest.’’

Two other young people in the car fled, and were later captured by police.

A month later, many black Bostonians said the explanation for the shooting was “unsatisfactory.’’

“They base their dissatisfaction on eyewitness accounts that Smith never left the back seat of the car and that his chest wound apparently had a downward trajectory,’’ the Globe said.

In addition, the suspected stolen vehicle had been stripped of its back seat by police. And Smith’s mother said she was in possession of the only knife her son owned: his Boy Scout knife.

“Before it’s over,’’ said Marvin Harrell of the NAACP’s Boston chapter, “someone is going to have to give us some answers.’’

The FBI began investigating the case to see if Smith’s Civil Rights had been violated. About 20 witnesses testified before Judge Francis Larkin in mid-May.

By August, the investigation still hadn’t been publicly released. Meanwhile, a policeman who shot another 15-year-old, Michael Pender, was charged with manslaughter three weeks after that shooting.

Pender was white, and Smith black. The contrasting legal treatment of the two shootings struck some as evidence of a racial double standard. “This shows how little regard there is for black lives,’’ state Rep. Mel King told the Globe.

Suffolk County closed the case in September, ruling that Clifford was justified in shooting Smith. “The Smith boy was in an upright position and springing toward the officer at the time the officer (Clifford) fired the shot,’’ Judge Larkin ruled.

* In the case of unknown exact dates of death we will use either the 1st of the month or any publicized funeral date

STATUS Ruled Justified