News Local/State

After Shooting, Davis Calls For Move Away From ‘Hateful Rhetoric’

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., still wearing his baseball unifirm, describes for reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 14, 2017, the scene during a shooting at a congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Va. where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., and others, were shot. J. Scott Applewhite/ AP

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) was at the plate Wednesday, during an early morning batting practice of the Republican Congressional baseball team, when he heard a loud noise that he did not immediately recognize as a gunshot.

Davis says the noise sounded to him like a large piece of metal being dropped at a construction area — although they weren’t at a construction area, but at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia. The noise was followed by someone else on the field shouting, “Run, he’s got a gun!”

The congressional representative from Taylorville had been caught up in a shooting incident in which four people were injured by gunfire, and the apparent shooter died after exchanging gunfire with police.

Davis described his experience of the shooting several times over the course of the day, including a mid-day telephone conference with reporters from in and around his congressional district.  

Escaping Gunfire

Davis told reporters how after hearing the gunshot and the warning, he ran from home plate and dove into the dugout on top of other people who had done the same thing. Seeking safer territory, he worked his way out of the dugout and eventually across the street behind some cars. Then when he heard that the shooter was coming over to his side of the baseball field, Davis and some other people ran down the street, where a “good Samaritan” at an apartment building let them in. He then called 9-1-1 (suspecting he was not the first to do so) and his family.

During the frantic dash to escape, Davis says he could see others who were not able to.

“The problem we have is, while this is all going on, I see my friend, not just my colleague, but my friend, (Louisiana Congressman and House Majority Whip) Steve Scalise, laying motionless in the outfield, and another former staffer who had been hit, bleeding on the ground.” Judging from news reports, Davis referred to Matt Mika, who the New York Times identifies as a former congressional staff member, now a lobbyist with Tyson Foods, who was shot in the chest.

“Those images will haunt me the rest of my life,” said Davis, of seeing his wounded colleagues.

A Call To Reject "Hateful Rhetoric"

Davis called the shooting a tragedy, but he told reporters that he also saw it as a possible turning point.

“Today’s got to be the day that we all stand together, and each of you in the media play a role in this, to stop this hateful political rhetoric that has led now to violence.  We have to come together and make that happen. We can disagree on policies. But we have the ability as Americans to disagree on policies because that’s what makes our country great. If you don’t like policies of someone who’s elected, change them at the ballot box. But be respectful and kind, and stop the hateful, hateful rhetoric that I see coming out of politics, of Congress. I see it coming out of the news media, I see it on social media.  Today’s our day. And I’m going to do everything to continue to work with my friends and colleagues on the other side of the aisle to send this same message.”

Although he said he had not been following news reports of the shooting closely, Davis seemed to be replying directly to the gunman, who authorities identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois. NPR reports that Facebook accounts in his name — now inaccessible — were full of posts supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and attacking the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

“Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy.  It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” read one of the pages.

But Davis says actual relations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress are not so hostile. He told reporters Wednesday that in reality, members of Congress from both parties are able to work together in a bipartisan fashion on many issues.  He says he wants to use the shooting to — in his words — “talk about how we govern together.”

Davis batted back a reporter’s question on potential changes in gun laws, in light of the shooting. The congressman said that what was more important at the moment was how political adversaries treat each other.

“I just don’t believe you’re listening to what I’m saying”, said Davis in reply to a question from State Journal-Register political writer Bernie Schoenberg. “All sides are at fault. The political polarization that we see in this country is tragic. I see it.  I’ve walked the streets of Springfield getting yelled at and spat on, because of policy difference that we have. That’s not what our forefathers imagined our republic would be, when people stood up and said they want to go to Congress and help govern. I work with Republicans and Democrats every day, and let me tell you something. They’re my friends.”

The Game Goes On

Davis says he was glad to hear that the shooting would not postpone the Congressional Baseball Game that he and his colleagues had been practicing for. The game is to be Thursday evening as scheduled, and Davis voiced hope that it would raise more money for charity than ever. The game is set to begin at 7:05 PM Eastern Time at Nationals Park. 

The Capitol Police Memorial Fund has been added to the list of charities the game will benefit. Davis called out the two Capitol Police officers, Special Agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey, who were assigned to protect Rep. Scalise, for special praise as “the heroes of today”, for firing back at the shooter.

“If they weren’t there aggressively pushing back against this madman, it would have been a massacre of proportions that we haven’t witnessed”, said Davis. “I just can’t thank them enough.”

Griner was shot in the ankle during the shooting, and Bailey sustained a minor secondary injury.

In addition, Congressional staffer Zachary Barth was also wounded by gunfire, while Rep. Roger Williams of Texas suffered a minor secondary injury.

Davis said that the shooting would likely affect his future decisions about taking precautions for his personal security.

“I’ve taken for granted what I’ve considered safe environments, not only in Washington, but back home”, said Davis. He said he would be more “cognizant” now of potential dangers, “after going through what I went through today.”