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Stop Acting Surprised By Gun Violence

A photo of police tape and police cars in front of Nationals Park
Samuel Corum/Getty Images|

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department conducts an investigation at the scene of a shooting outside the Third Base Gate of Nationals Park on July 17, 2021 in Washington D.C.

Three people were shot Saturday night outside Nationals Park. The drive-by shooting happened near the third-base gate and the entrance used by stadium workers. Police told the Washington Post that people inside the stadium were never in danger, but they also said that one of the people shot had been attending the game. Gunshots are loud, and the stadium is outside, so people at the game heard and they scrambled. In videos posted to social media, you can see that some people sprinted for the exits. Some hid behind chairs in front of them. The Post reported that one family ended up in the clubhouse near the manager's office. Players for the visiting Padres opened up the gates to the field for the fans. It was pandemonium, someone who was there told the Post.

The shooting came days after three men at a hotel near the All-Star Game were arrested on federal gun charges for having dozens of weapons and ammunition, per the Associated Press. The men were discovered by pure luck—a hotel employee saw the guns and called police.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez mentioned in a press conference afterward that the team goes through protocols and trainings for this kind of situation. But what about the fans? What about the rest of the people inside the stadium? Surely a better system can be put in place for them beyond, as the Post reported, a random woman yelling to her peers to "get down."

But that was not the focus on Saturday night. Instead, at a news conference, employees for the Washington Nationals and D.C. city officials ran damage control.

“This was an isolated incident that happened outside the ballpark,” said Chris Geldart, Washington’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice.

“There was never anyone inside the stadium with a weapon,” said Scott Fear, a vice president of public safety and safety for the Nationals.

When city officials and Washington Nationals representatives point out that the shooting happened outside the stadium, they aren't just stating facts. They're signaling. They're promising that their space, the shiny stadium full of people who have bought tickets, is safe. They also are leaving a lot out. Like how Navy Yard, the neighborhood that Nationals Park is in, has gentrified so rapidly it is almost unbelievable. According to Census data, in 2000, 94 percent of the population of that neighborhood was black. In 2018, it was down to 23 percent.

The stadium borders South Capitol street, with homes on the opposite side. The neighborhood on the other side of the street isn't considered Navy Yard, but part of "Southwest D.C." There are some newly built, over-priced condominiums, but for the most part it's still small, two-story row homes lived in by families. Sometimes, when I go to games, I drive and park near a softball field where I used to play in that neighborhood. When I walk through those streets, people are always outside having a beer or chatting with neighbors. There are several big plum trees shedding fruit right now. People live there. Historically, black people live there—and they have lived there for far longer than a stadium has cast a shadow over their houses. In 2018, 75 percent of that neighborhood was black.

City leadership tried its best to do a similar kind of safety signaling on Friday night, when, a 6-year-old child named Nyiah Courtney was shot and killed also in a drive-by shooting in Congress Heights, less than five miles from Nationals Park. Her mother, who was walking with her, also was hurt. Nyiah was the 102nd homicide victim in D.C. this year. On Thursday night, a man was shot and critically wounded a block away from where Nyiah was shot.

After Nyiah's murder, all the usual steps occurred following a senseless tragedy. Law enforcement put out a hefty $60,000 reward, which might or might not help. The Post reiterated that the city has promised a program that concentrates police on the blocks where gun violence is happening. But Police Chief Robert J. Contee said police had been near the block when Nyiah was shot and they could not stop her murder. The same way I constantly see police all around Nationals Park, and the shooting there happened anyway. And it's worth remembering that it has been ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court that police have no duty to protect you.

The reality is that the fear and terror and danger that we are reporting on for the 30,000 people who were inside Nationals Park last night did not happen in isolation. Teens in D.C. take the PSAT weeks after their friends are murdered. A 16-year-old was shot and killed on May 28. In 2020, D.C. had a 19 percent increase in homicides (from 166 to 198) over 2019, and it was the third year in a row that the rate had climbed. As of this weekend, the district is on pace with 2020's numbers. Gun violence is an epidemic in this country that our leaders are not doing anything about. Now that we are reemerging from a pandemic, we are reminded that the people who claim to keep us safe by funneling more money into police budgets aren't actually doing anything at all. The gun violence rages on, all while the police force grows and their budget increases. And still people are being shot in the street. No one is keeping us safe. Instead of changing tactics or accepting responsibility for those failures, the people in charge pretend to be surprised and horrified and shocked every damn time.

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