Leonard Pitts: She is 8 years old

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 2021

She is 8 years old.

That’s … what? About third grade? Too young for boyfriends. Too young for R-rated movies. Too young for algebra or a learner’s permit.

But she has already experienced her second shooting.

It happened a little over a week ago in Washington, D.C., outside of Nationals Park where a ballgame was in progress. But you may not have heard about it. The casualties were relatively light — three persons wounded, nothing life-threatening — and shootings in and of themselves are hardly newsworthy anymore. Still, the danger was very much real, and as gunfire erupted — as America’s pastime interrupted a baseball game — spectators had to duck and run.

One of them was 8 years old.

Afterward, when a reporter from local TV station WUSA asked how she felt, Faris Nunn, chewing on a fingernail, spoke almost with nonchalance. “It was my second shooting,” she said, “so I was kind of prepared, ’cause I always am expecting something to happen.” As she said it, she dropped her hand and gave a tiny shake of her head as if to say, “What are you going to do?”

She is 8 years old.

That’s the age of Barbie Dreamhouses and sleepovers, right? Of TikToks and L.O.L. Surprise. Of “Frozen” and, well … of family baseball outings on a warm summer’s night.

But Faris is on her second shooting, the first having occurred one morning in November when a man was killed outside a rec center in Northeast D.C. She was on the playground.

She is 8 years old.

One of humanity’s nobler attributes is its adaptability. To be human, after all, is to learn, often by bitter experience, that “normal” can change in an eyeblink of time. So surviving and thriving require an ability to adjust to whatever the new normal might be.

The company downsized your job? You refresh your resume and start looking.

A hurricane leveled your home? You dig out and rebuild.

A death devastated your family? You mourn and go on.

But sometimes, maybe we should be more maladjusted. Sometimes, adapting oneself to the new circumstance is less a hopeful sign of resilience than a troubling sign of collective failure. “I always am expecting something to happen,” she said.

She is 8 years old. Eight-year-olds should not have to go about always expecting something to happen. That this one does — that a 7-year-old in South Carolina was diagnosed with PTSD after a shooting there, that a 6-year-old in D.C. was shot and killed the night before the ballpark incident — is an indictment of this country. It is a rebuke of every pundit and gun-lobby functionary who ever sold mass terror as freedom, of every lawmaker who ever accepted NRA blood money in exchange for conscience, of every voter who voted for the politician who promised more guns in more places, of every individual who fires a gun as a show of cheap courage and counterfeit toughness, of all our thoughts and prayers and deepest condolences, of all our words and promises and newspaper columns and court cases and debates and tweets and resolve and pain.

None of it has been enough.

She is 8 years old. Most of us have socks older than that. But she already knows that America is a blood-drenched nation where everybody’s armed and if you hope to survive, you must be ready at any instant — in the ballpark, in the rec center — to duck and run. This is what she has come to understand. This is what normal looks like to her. And for that, shame on us all.

She is 8 years old.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.