NEW ORLEANS -- Twelve hours after Will Smith’s killer was convicted of manslaughter, another New Orleans football star, Joe McKnight, was laid to rest less than three miles away.
Both of them shot and killed after apparent road rage incidents. Two more senseless acts in a city plagued by gun violence.
“New Orleans has had enough of it,” said George Tucker, the attorney for McKnight’s family who is hoping that McKnight’s alleged killer, Ronald Gasser, will eventually face the same punishment that Smith’s killer, Cardell Hayes, received.
But in both cases, the words of Smith’s close friend and former New Orleans Saints teammate Deuce McAllister rang painfully true as the sadness spilled over into a new week.
“It’s not a win for anybody,” McAllister said late Sunday night.
Although the Hayes verdict that came late Sunday night brought some sense of peace and justice to Smith’s wife, Racquel, their three children and their other loved ones, McAllister said they still had to wake up Monday without a husband and father -- just like Hayes’ son did Monday.
Just like McKnight’s son did.
“If anything comes of this, I hope that we will come to a position and a place in our country, in our community, that we’re gonna recognize we’ve gotta change,” said J.T. Curtis, McKnight’s high school coach, who is a local legend in his own right as the coach of the longtime football powerhouse at John Curtis Christian School.
“We cannot continue to have the same behavior repeat itself over and over again without the leaders in our community, in our schools, to be able to change people’s lives. The definition of insanity is to continue to repeat an act and expect a different outcome. And we’re not getting a different outcome,” added Curtis, who said he hopes Monday's message from a preacher about finding hope in Christ can resonate more in people, as well. “We’re gonna have to do something to re-examine who we are, the adults in this community, and what we’re teaching.”
Saints coach Sean Payton declined to get into his thoughts on the need for gun control -- which he delivered so passionately after Smith was killed in April -- but he did reference them on Monday.
Payton, who was in the courtroom on Sunday to hear the verdict, instead focused his comments on praising Racquel Smith.
“There’s no specific time of grieving, and yet I thought she showed amazing strength throughout it all,” Payton said.
McAllister’s words also rang true on Monday throughout the Saints' locker room, where he and Smith spent so many years together.
One after another, Smith’s former teammates repeated that “no winners” message:
-- “Both families are torn, and their lives are changed forever,” said Saints safety Roman Harper, who also went to the trial, with his wife, to support the Smiths last week. “At the end of the day, they have two lives that are gone, essentially, and all over what? We just gotta be better as men, especially as black men in this country. ... We have to be better in our actions and the way we’re handling ourselves.”
-- “We live in a dangerous city. There’s no way around that,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “We live in a dangerous place, and you hate that. I think the people that live here and love it hate that about this city. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong. I tell my wife all the time, ‘You don’t beep your horn, you don’t yell at someone through a window, you don’t do any of that stuff. You get in your car and you drive home, because you never know the domino effect of something happening.’ And that’s sad that that’s a reality. It’s a sad reality. It’s something you would hope and wish as a society we could get past, so we could start learning to be and act differently. But right now it’s not. ... It’s a sobering reality.”
-- “You can only hope and press forward with the idea of, with a little bit of God and a little bit of love, hopefully there doesn’t have to be a situation like this again,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “And that goes with the Will Smith case, that goes with the Joe McKnight case, that goes with any killings, really, that are just something you can’t make sense of. These are things you have to press forward through with a light heart filled with just straight love and blessings toward everybody, so another family doesn’t have to go without a father who was murdered or a father who’s gonna be incarcerated for a long period of time."
“There’s no winning side," Jordan added. "There’s just loss on each side when things get out of hand, as they have."