Will Smith recalls being called N-word by cops 'on more than 10 occasions'

Smith reflected on his experience growing up in Philadelphia in a recent conversation.
/ Source: TODAY

Will Smith is opening up about his own disturbing encounters with police officers in the U.S.

During a conversation about being Black in America with political commentator Angela Rye, Rye asked the "I Am Legend" star if it's a "misconception" that being a Hollywood A-lister has protected him from police brutality.

(Warning: The video below contains an obscenity.)

Smith responded by saying police officers called him the N-word "on more than 10 occasions" when he was growing up in Philadelphia.

"I grew up under, you know, Mayor (Frank) Rizzo. He went from the chief of police to becoming the mayor and he had an iron hand," said the actor, 51. "I've been called n----- by the cops in Philly on more than 10 occasions, right? I got stopped frequently.

"So, I understand what it's like to be in those circumstances with the police, to feel like you've been occupied. It's an occupying force," he added.

The two-time Oscar nominee also recalled attending a Catholic school in the suburbs, and noting his white classmates didn't share his fear of the police.

"I understand what it's like to be in those circumstances with the police, to feel like you've been occupied," Smith said.Carlos Alvarez / Getty Images

"White kids were happy when the cops showed up, and my heart always started pounding," Smith said. "There's a part of this that people who don't grow up in that you just can't comprehend. You just can't comprehend what it feels like to feel like you live in an occupied territory."

Witnessing more and more people showing up to protest with Black Lives Matter activists over the past month and a half has moved Smith in a deeply encouraging way.

"The entire globe has stood up and said to the African American people, 'We see you and we hear you. How can we help?'" Smith said. "We've never been there before."

Though he understands that activists may feel "rage" about centuries of systemic racism in the U.S., Smith has been heartened to see the protests have been largely peaceful.

"For me, it comes down to, you know, after you get beyond the rage. Rage is justified under oppression," he continued. "It also can be really dangerous. "You got to be careful not to be consumed by your own rage, and that's something that I've worked really hard on."

"Peaceful protests," Smith explained, "put up a mirror to the demonic imagery of your oppressor. The more still you are in your peaceful protests, the more clear the mirror is to the oppressor for the world to see and for them to see themselves."

Still, the former "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" star said he's mystified by people who bristle at the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

"Something as simple as Black Lives Matter: What's the f----- point of contention, right?" he asked. "The point of contention is that's not what the person's hearing, right? So, that's where communication rules come in very handy.

"Here's what the answer is when someone says Black Lives Matter: 'Yes, I agree. Black Lives Matter,'" he added.