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Saturday, April 16, 2016

New Orleanians take to the streets to mourn, celebrate former Saints player Will Smith

Posted By on Sat, Apr 16, 2016 at 12:57 AM

click to enlarge The makeshift memorial in the Lower Garden District, where mourners met tonight to celebrate former New Orleans Saint Wil Smith. - DELLA HASSELLE
  • DELLA HASSELLE
  • The makeshift memorial in the Lower Garden District, where mourners met tonight to celebrate former New Orleans Saint Wil Smith.
On Friday, just six days after former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was shot to death in the Lower Garden District, the city’s residents took to the streets to mourn and celebrate him the best way they knew how.

Brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, members of various Baby Doll groups and hundreds of the late football player’s fans joined anti-gun violence groups for a two-hour, three-mile second line led by local musician James Andrews, as participants and onlookers danced and sang their sorrows away.

Twice the band played “When The Saints Go Marching In” — once as the second line poured into Canal Street, shutting down traffic on half of the busy boulevard, and again as marchers pulled up to the final stopping point, Treme's Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar. Both times marchers could be seen wiping away tears as they sang along.

“To make myself feel better, I came here today,” said 65-year-old Dora Jackson, as she watched the second line with 21-month-old Dor’Ian, her great-grandson. “I hope people can stop the gun violence.

"People have to realize that life don’t have to be taken like that.”

Among the organizers was CeaseFire New Orleans, which works to prevent retaliatory shootings and reduce the number of murders by mediating ongoing conflicts between groups. Also there were members of the Louisiana Violence Reduction Center, who lobby in legislature against pro-gun bills.

Towards the beginning of the second line, leaders paused at the corner of Sophie Wright Place and Felicity Street, where New Orleans police said Will Smith had been shot to death, and where a makeshift memorial of balloons, handwritten signs, teddy bears and other trinkets had been carefully placed in his honor.

Ralston Andry with the Money Wasters second line group huddled on the corner with Baby Dolls from The Gold Digger group and Wild Tchoupitoulas as they had a moment of silence. Someone in the crowd led a prayer.

It was there that police found Will Smith dead on Sunday, slumped partially inside of his Mercedes-Benz SUV.
 
The shooting happened about 11:30 p.m., police said, following a three-car accident that involving Smith and Cardell Hayes, who was booked on a second-degree murder charge the next day.
 
click to enlarge Ralston Andry with the Money Wasters second line group, at the second line for former New Orleans Saint Will Smith. - DELLA HASSELLE
  • DELLA HASSELLE
  • Ralston Andry with the Money Wasters second line group, at the second line for former New Orleans Saint Will Smith.

Smith was shot 8 times with a .45-caliber handgun during the April 9 incident, police said, which also left his wife Racquel injured. Authorities said she was shot in the leg, and the family’s lawyer said she had been left screaming for help after watching her husband die from his injuries.
 
In the days after the shooting, which rocked members of the New Orleans Saints, Coach Sean Payton and millions of fans, dueling and at times conflicting narratives have emerged from lawyers for both sides.
 
What is known is that just hours before the fatal shooting, Smith and his wife were enjoying the French Quarter Festival. After that, they went to dinner at Sake Café on Magazine Street, where they were joined by former NOPD Captain Billy Ceravolo.
  Later, Hayes’ attorney, John Fuller, would say that Smith wasn’t the aggressor in the situation. A video emerged that showed what appeared to be Smith’s SUV rear-ending Hayes’ Hummer H2 before the three-car accident and shooting, and then driving off.
 
Fuller suggested that Hayes followed Smith to get his license plate number, and that Smith threatened Hayes after being confronted about the crash.
 
The lawyer also said Smith was in possession of a gun before he was shot to death, which he said witnesses on scene reported seeing. During a press release, Fuller stated that video taken at the scene, handed over to police, would prove his client is “legally not guilty.”
 
click to enlarge The second line made its way up Canal Street to the Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar. - DELLA HASSELLE
  • DELLA HASSELLE
  • The second line made its way up Canal Street to the Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar.
The statement directly contradicts one made by Peter Thomson, the Smith family attorney. According to Thomson, Smith never had a chance to retrieve his gun from the car’s console.
 
Instead, Thomson said, Smith and Hayes had argued, but Smith’s wife and another woman had gone over to them to diffuse the argument and bring Smith back to the car. The lawyer said Hayes then followed them, shot the ex-football player’s wife and then shot Smith.
  
In a statement issued Wednesday, New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse said Smith was shot once in the chest and in the back seven times.
 
On Friday, “senseless” was the word that kept being used over and over to describe the scenario that had been playing out in the media over the past few days. The more that was revealed, the worse the story became, according to a 46-year-old man who goes by “DJ Bird.”

“It was so easily avoided,” he said. “It’s crazy how it happened.”

DJ Bird said, however, it was important to not focus on how Smith died, but who he was — a man that many described as “great,” “kind,” “loved,” and above all, a man many considered a selfless leader for the team and fan base possibly unlike any other in the world.

click to enlarge The second line ended in front of Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar in Treme. - DELLA HASSELLE
  • DELLA HASSELLE
  • The second line ended in front of Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar in Treme.
As he watched the second line pass down Camp Street, headed downtown and eventually to the Treme, DJ Bird remembered Smith’s many contributions to the team that for the first time won the Super Bowl during his tenure.

Smith, who was about to be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame, started 120 games and recorded 67.5 sacks during his a decade with the team. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006.

“It’s a great turnout for Will Smith, and a great turnout for the Who Dat Nation,” DJ Bird said.

Fans also remembered Smith’s work in the community. Among many services, he ran a foundation called “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way,” that provided education and other opportunities for at-risk youth in New Orleans and New York.

Additionally, Smith helped with the Kingsley House, as well as Bridge House and Grace House.

“I’m feeling sad and I’m feeling happy. We lost a great legend,” said 51-year-old Greg “Catfish” Nogess, after he finished dancing alongside the second line, jumping into splits on the ground and in the air. “He was a stand-up guy. I love him, and I miss him, and I love this city.” 

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