A onetime bank robber who turned his life around and became a Philadelphia community activist has been charged with robbing a Baltimore bank Aug. 2, according to Maryland District Court records.
Manuel “Wali” Smith Sr., 57, of the 100 block of North Peach Street in West Philadelphia, was charged with armed robbery, first- and second-degree assault, use of a firearm, and related counts. He remained in jail without bail Wednesday awaiting a preliminary hearing Sept. 5 in Baltimore.
Smith allegedly robbed the Bank of America at 100 S. Charles St. downtown, according to charging documents. He approached a bank teller with his hand in his suit-coat pocket and said, “Don’t push any buttons or I will pop you,” the documents say. He received an undisclosed amount from a bank employee and left before police arrived.
Five days later, on Aug. 7, Smith approached an officer and turned himself in, the documents say.
Philadelphia police issued a missing-person alert last Thursday after Smith was reported missing by his family Aug. 2. His son, Manuel Jr., an assignment editor at NBC News in New York City and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, announced Wednesday on Facebook that he had been located.
The elder Smith, who is employed as a life coach with the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, became an influential member of the Philadelphia NAACP after he was released from prison in the early 1990s.
Lorraine Smith, 59, said Wednesday that her brother had spent time in prison in the 1980s for robbing banks, but had lived a crime-free life in recent years.
In June 2018 he was honored by the South Philadelphia Taskforce of Probation and Parole for successfully completing state parole supervision; co-founding the task force to create safe travel corridors to and from schools; and being a school athletic coach, an active member of Bethel International Church in Mount Airy, and an active member of the Philadelphia NAACP.
Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, said he met Smith when ministering to inmates at Graterford Prison in the early 1990s. After his release from prison, Smith became an active member of the NAACP for about 10 years, chairing the prison committee and co-chairing ACT-SO, a youth empowerment program.
“They did some good work. They ended up helping the NAACP get legislation passed so that those that were incarcerated would have the right to vote” after leaving prison, Muhammad said.
As a life coach at PAAN, Smith mentored recently released inmates. Word of his arrest caught the organization by surprise. “I have no idea, no comment, no nothing at the moment because that’s the first time I’m hearing of this," said Michael C. Harris, PAAN’s community engagement and public relations coordinator.