The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Md. state Sen. Will Smith missed the Oscars. He woke up to chaos.

Maryland state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. on Jan. 10, 2017. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Maryland state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. went to bed early Sunday night. He was startled Monday morning when he awoke to a phone that wouldn’t stop dinging.

That’s when he learned the following:

People had mistaken him for the Oscar-winning actor. The one who shares his name. The one who slapped comedian Chris Rock on Sunday night — in front of the whole world — over a joke about his wife’s hair.

“I got a few messages saying ‘you messed up,’ actually it was a little more colorful than that,” said Smith, a Democrat who has represented Montgomery County in the General Assembly since 2015.

Smith said he got more than 100 new Twitter followers in a matter of hours. His typical get: four or five — and that’s in a good week.

“You gotta laugh,” Smith said. “I needed some levity.”

Smith, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, is in the final weeks of a busy 90-day legislative session. His committee has taken up the weighty issues of reforming the juvenile justice system, banning untraceable firearms — commonly known as ghost guns — that are assembled from parts and sold in kits on the Internet without background checks, and allowing felons to serve on juries.

Meet the psychologist drawing from the Black church to reshape mental health care

Smith said after he sponsored an abortion rights bill this year, he was targeted by far-right groups that sent him a few hundred threats online. He has also been involved in a dispute with the ACLU of Maryland. Its leaders have accused him of silencing the advocacy group’s voice by imposing a so-called “No ACLU rule,” which includes not meeting with them. The tension stems from tactics (protesting outside his home) that advocates used last year during the highly charged debate over police reform.

Last week, after criticism of Smith became public, the Maryland Senate president praised his leadership and he received a standing ovation from his colleagues.

Smith is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2015 and has served in the Senate since December 2016.

He said he was “horrified” when he saw clips of the incident between the actor and the comedian.

“The act of violence was sad and unacceptable,” the senator said. “And I think there was a missed opportunity to address alopecia in a constructive way. And then I thought about what personal stuff someone must be going through to do something like that.” (The actor Will Smith was apparently reacting to Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia.)

He paused, then added about the new Oscar winner: “I just hope he’s okay.”