Her name was Nyiah Courtney, a sparkly little girl who wore braids, loved to dance and couldn’t wait to return to school this fall. We are heartbroken at her death, at a whole life unlived, while trying simultaneously to absorb so much other bloodshed, and gunfire, all around.
On Saturday night, a 10-minute drive across the Anacostia River from the Congress Heights neighborhood where Nyiah was fatally shot, panic erupted inside Nationals Park at the sound of gunfire during the sixth inning of a Nats-Padres game. The bullets flew just outside the stadium, on South Capitol Street SE, in what police called a shootout between two cars.
For a few moments, rumors raced through the stands of an active shooter inside the stadium, triggering pandemonium that spilled onto the field, literally; some fans and players’ family members leaped from their seats near home plate onto the grass while others dove for cover. Outside the park, on the third-base side, bullets struck three people, including two occupants of one of the cars and a fan who had just left the stadium and was waiting for an Uber. The game was postponed.
The mayhem inside Nats Park was relatively brief; a minute or two after the gunfire, a P.A. announcement helped settle things down by instructing fans to remain calm and inside the stadium. Fifteen minutes later, people were allowed to leave through the center- and right-field gates. In the meantime, the anxiety of fans at the stadium and beyond was only intensified by the ill-considered decision to abruptly halt the game’s radio broadcast.
The gunplay is pervasive in Washington. The night before Nyiah was killed on the 2900 block of MLK Jr. Avenue SE, a man was shot and critically wounded just a block away. In the same place, another man was shot to death inside a vehicle on May 30.
Across the city, few neighborhoods seem safe, although in some the sound of gunfire is a fixture of the evenings. Mindful of that, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced in February what she called a “data-driven approach” informed by a “comprehensive block-by-block analysis to pinpoint specific areas where gun violence is regularly happening.” The anti-crime program, called Building Blocks DC, will target 151 blocks (of more than 7,500 across the city) where more than 40 percent of gunshot-related crimes occurred in 2020.
The mayor’s blueprint appears rational, but any strategy will be incomplete as long as Congress refuses to help control the traffic in guns. So far in 2021, the number of homicides in the District, 103, is almost exactly on pace with last year’s number — itself the worst in 15 years. More heartbreak, and more obituaries, are likely.