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Late on Saturday night, I searched YouTube for clips of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. This famous PBS series molded me as much as television could. With no sarcasm and no hidden meanings, it tried to explain life: How trumpets are made, or how it feels to be angry, or what it means to have a friend. As I watched again, I wondered how Fred Rogers found such candor. He spoke to all five-year-olds as Rilke spoke to all 20-year-olds. He needed no punch line. The world was serious. One’s feelings were serious, even if one was very small.
I thought over these things while I sipped wine in the empty house. The dark summer air was quiet, and I felt like part of it: I was an agent of this peace, one neighbor on a block where everyone knew each other, where there were barbeques and talks over the fence, where someone would come over if something was wrong.
Then the kids started shooting.
The first shot rang right in front of the house. The next five came from the neighbors on the next block. Having hit the floor, I reached for a phone and called the cops. “Several callers have already alerted us,” the dispatcher said. “We’re sending the next available unit.” No, they weren’t. No sirens reached G Street till about 20 minutes later, when I was in bed, wondering if Mister Rogers was wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t make friends. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about our feelings. Maybe we shouldn’t play the piano when we get mad.
Maybe we should buy a nine and cap the next mofo who gets in our way.