Our city lost a hard-working father to violence last week. His death, one of more than 120 homicides thus far this year, is a tragic, cautionary tale. Bryan Christopher Smith, 22, worked two jobs in the city's tourism industry to support his 1-year-old son, according to his former employers at the Louisiana Superdome. His son is now another fatherless child of New Orleans, deserving our love, care and protection — yet history tells us we are ill equipped as a village to raise this child.
This innocent son cannot wait until the mayor's election in February 2010 to hope for a better day. He and the rest of our children need a safer city now. We owe that much to his father and to all the other fallen fathers.
A full-time contract employee at the Superdome since 2003, Smith was one of two warehousemen to return to the stadium after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, says dome spokeswoman Stephanie Johnson. He helped reopen the renovated stadium in time for the Saints' triumphant Monday Night Football game in September 2006. "He was a dedicated employee," Johnson says. "He was reliable, dependable and needed very little direction. Everyone loved him."
"Bryan was a kid that worked every day," sobbed Marie Faucher, a human resources manager at the Dome. "He was trying to get ahead and set an example for his young son." Smith also worked a second job at the W Hotel downtown.
He died July 14, roughly one week after Mary Beth Romig, a spokeswoman for the city's tourism industry, expressed concern for the safety of the area's 70,000-plus hospitality industry employees. He was gunned down in a drive-by shooting shortly before 8 a.m. in the Uptown section of New Orleans. A 21-year-old man also was seriously wounded. Unfortunately, a crime camera at the corner of Leonidas and Hickory streets was not working, police said. A Times-Picayune story captured one woman's piercing grief as workers from the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office carried Smith's bullet-riddled body from the porch where he was shot. "Nobody tell me that's Bryan!" she screamed. "That's not Bryan! Bryan's going to work."
New Orleans is on pace to repeat last year's shameful distinction as the nation's per capita murder capital, says Tulane University professor Peter Scharf. Like legions of other uncounted children, Smith's son has been robbed of a lifetime of parental love, support and guidance. If the past is prologue, it's likely the last time the names of this father and son will appear together in public will be among the funeral notices that trail the news of our city's numbing violence.
New Orleans' children deserve better. Here's what we can do:
• Smith's killers must be brought to justice — now.
• His son and all our children need safe playgrounds, supervised swimming pools and better schools — now.
• Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Warren Riley must focus all their energies on ending the city's homicidal nightmare — as the mayor promised during a citizens march on City Hall on Jan. 11, 2007.
• The mayor and the police chief should suspend all but essential travel for public safety officials and focus instead on halting the violence — until the next administration takes office on May 3, 2010. Now is not the time for political or administrative victory laps. There are no winners in the nation's murder capital.
• Starting now, and leading up to the 2010 elections, citizens must demand specific crime-fighting plans from current and prospective elected officials.
"I don't feel like we can wait," says Gina Warner, executive director of the nonprofit After-School Partnership, referring to the inauguration of a new mayor and City Council. "That's a long time in the life of a child. We should want to have a sense of urgency."
We join U.S. Attorney Jim Letten in his endorsement of the After-School Partnership's efforts to list all recreational and educational resources and services for area youth via an online mapping project. "There is a genuine fear out there among parents and kids," says Warner. "The kids want to be somewhere safe. Parents are desperate. They want their kids to be safe."
We owe that much to Smith's child — and to all other innocent sons and daughters.