I’d like to tell you a story.
On Saturday I took my 13-year-old son, Flash, to the ballpark to see the Nationals and the visiting San Diego Padres. Here’s the view from our seats as the most exciting player in baseball took the field:
What a thrill to be able to watch Tatis and Manny and the rest of the Swingin’ Friars up close. Not just a thrill, but a privilege. Not everyone gets to do this. I remind Flash of that sort of thing often.
Midway through the 6th inning there was an incident. Behind us and above us there was a burst of semi-automatic gunfire. The sound was unmistakable. My mind immediately tried to figure out the distance. It was loud—everyone in the stadium heard it. But it didn’t seem loud enough to have come from the concourse immediately behind us.
I told Flash to get down between the seats. I scanned the section of the stadium behind us trying to figure if it had come from the second-level concourse.
The crowd was calm for a minute. I wondered if my mind had played tricks on me—maybe the sound had come from a speaker. Then I glanced at the field and saw that the Nationals dugout was empty. That’s when I got nervous. If anyone was going to have a good line to information from the stadium ops/security guys, it was going to be the home team dugout. I got down pretty low and watched the crowd begin to panic.
People started moving in flows. In right field, people ran up toward the concourse. People in the sections behind home plate surged laterally, toward us.
And that’s when I saw something that broke my heart: A bunch of the Padres players had sprinted down the third base line toward the family and friends section and grabbed wives, kids, older parents and random fans and dragged them back toward the visitor’s dugout.
The image from the night I’ll never forget is Fernando Tatis Jr. carrying a little blonde girl across his body and running toward the dugout like he was stealing home.
After a long-ish interval, the ballpark PA announced that an “incident” had occurred just outside the park at the third-base gate. This explained why I’d heard the reports behind and above me, and why it hadn’t seemed quite loud enough to have been a shooter on the ground-level concourse.
What seems to have happened is that someone in a car opened fire immediately outside the third-base gate. Three people were wounded. This is what counts as a happy ending in America, circa 2021: It was “only” a drive-by shooting. “Only” three people were injured. There was not a spree killer inside Nationals Park. Yay.
I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t scared even a little bit. But this wasn’t the first, or second, or third time that I’ve been nearby people getting shot. I lived in Baltimore in the ‘90s. This is a thing that happened.
As I was doing the mental calculations on where the shots came from, I was also assessing our position in case there was a shooter inside the stadium. I thought we were in a good place. Flash and I were in the second row behind the dugout. We had lots of hard cover and the freedom to move North, South, East, or West, as needed. It was a solid tactical situation.
And while I wasn’t thrilled to have to talk to my middle schooler about shooting angles, reducing his visible cross section, the supremacy of good cover, and how to think about freedom of maneuver, he’s 13. He can handle it.
But think about the little blonde girl Tatis carried into the dugout. The ballpark was filled with kids her age. Kids who aren’t old enough to handle this sort of stuff, but were sure as hell old enough that they’ll remember the terror for a good long time.
And what kills me is that even this phrase—“kids who aren’t old enough to handle this sort of stuff”—is itself a mark of tremendous privilege.
Here’s a Washington news story from Friday night about a girl named Nyiah Courtney:
And here is a local news interview of an 8-year-old girl who had been at the Saturday game:
Listen to this sweet girl. Listen to her:
It was my second shooting, so I was kind of prepared, ‘cause I’m always expecting something to happen.
Going to see Fernando Tatis Jr. play baseball is a privilege. But so is being able to get your kid into his teen years without him experiencing a shooting. I am deeply aware that there are kids across America who grow up hearing shots fired in anger as part of their daily lives. This has been true for coming on two generations. And the fact that this is a long-running part of our culture does not diminish our national shame. It increases it.
It’s one thing for a society to fail. It’s another for a society to stop caring about its failures.
Jonathan V. Last is a writer for thebulwark.com. This post is from his daily newsletter; he says it was free to share.