We live in a country where teenagers settle disputes with guns.
We saw that with tragic consequences Friday night when gunfire erupted in the midst of a Grady High-Carver High football game in a popular intown neighborhood near Piedmont Park.
The New York Times had a sobering piece this week on the rise in murders in America’s cities, seeking explanations why. Here’s an excerpt of the piece that’s relevant to what happened here:
“… many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes. ‘Maintaining one’s status and credibility and honor, if you will, within that peer community is literally a matter of life and death,’ Milwaukee’s police chief, Edward A. Flynn, said.
Arguments that used to end in bloody noses and busted lips now end in gunfire and intensive care units.
Nearly two dozens shots were fired during a Friday night altercation near Grady High School, leaving a teenager in critical condition and a passerby wounded, Atlanta police said.
According to a police incident report released Saturday, the 18-year-old victim was leaving Grady’s football game with Carver High School when he and other members of his group were confronted by “four or five males” near Monroe Drive and 8th Street. The suspects reportedly “asked if they had a problem with them.”
“According to the victim, he thought there was going to be a fist fight, but someone from the other group pulled guns and started shooting at him,” the incident report said. “He said that he ran and didn’t realize that he had been shot until he entered a nearby restaurant.”
The victim, a student at Crim Open Campus High School, was shot in the back and taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in critical condition, police said.
A 52-year-old woman was driving through the intersection during the shooting and stray bullets hit her in the ankle and grazed her head, police said. She was taken to Atlanta Medical Center in stable condition.
As someone who wrote about guns and kids for 12 years for the AJC editorial board, I could say a lot about this incident.
But Atlanta school board member Matt Westmoreland said it better in a Facebook posting that I asked if I could share on the blog.
A Princeton grad and a Teach for America alum, Westmoreland attended Grady High School, taught at Carver and grew up in Atlanta. He knows these kids.
By Matt Westmoreland
It is a horrifying thing to be at a high school football game with hundreds of families on a Friday night and hear 21 gunshots ring out right next to the stadium.
You get frightened when you watch the crowd flee for safety— dropping to the ground, hiding behind concrete walls, or sprinting across the field to get away.
You get angry when you see a panicked look on the faces of middle schoolers or tears rolling down the cheeks of your former students.
You get shaken when you realize this is what many will think about when they hear Grady— or Carver— or Atlanta Public Schools.
You get sad when the conversation turns racial: Whether it’s a Black player from Carver saying he wished he “went to a white school where I could just play games,” or a community member describing a white neighbor who is becoming “more anti-young black male as time goes on.”
As a Grady alum and former Carver teacher, last night hit especially close to home— because both of those school communities hold a special place in my heart. And that’s why, in the midst of all that was happening, I was so heartened to see how folks came together to support one another. It made me proud to be a Grady Knight, a Carver Panther, and a member of the APS family.
It is hard as a teacher, and I imagine even more so as a parent, to know there is evil in the world and that, no matter how hard we work, sometimes our efforts to keep kids safe and protected seem to fail.
In situations like this, it’s common to look for someone or something to blame, and to get filled with anger and rage. But blame and anger don’t end violence, free our streets of crime, change the hearts and minds of our older kids, or help mold the hearts and minds of our younger ones.
For me, events like last night are a vivid reminder that we all have more work to do—that an even greater effort is required of us. The trigger on that gun was pulled by someone who lives in our community, who likely grew up in our schools. But that means we have the individual and collective ability to effect positive change in both of those institutions for the future.
The Grady and Carver communities are full of folks who work hard, love deeply, and care about those around them. That is a strong foundation on which to build. And it is proof in my mind that, through hard work, love and kindness, our world gets better.