By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
4.28.16: Philadelphia – (Politics): I won’t ever forget the first time I held the type of BB gun that a 13 year-old Baltimorean was in possession of on Wednesday when he was shot, though not fatally, by a police officer who, according to the Baltimore Police Commissioner, was “compelled to act” when observing a teenager with a weapon.
It was September of 2014 and I was on the fourth floor of City Hall in Philadelphia for a private meeting with activists and officials – including then Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel – regarding the proliferation of BB guns sold at corner stores in neighborhoods like Point Breeze.
The main concern then of activists like Mr. Anton Moore and Ms. Nakia Carr, who earlier this year held a town hall meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on the issue of gun violence, was that a police officer, unable to distinguish whether the gun is real or not in the heat of a moment, would fire upon a child at play with the intent to kill or disarm.
Why would a trained, professional police officer be unable to recognize a toy gun when they see it? Because, most toys guns aren’t toys at all but are instead gun replicas that look and feel real. These toy guns aren’t exclusive for child’s play. They’ve been used to commit crimes and intimidate citizens.
And, despite the big deal the national media is making currently about the story of the non-fatal officer-involved shooting in Baltimore, those who brandish these BB guns in public have been in the past confronted and fired up by police.
For example, from 2007-2014, more than 10 individuals with toys guns were shot at, in a few cases killed, by Philadelphia police officers, according to data obtained by Techbook Online from the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission. That data set was used by Mr. Moore and Ms. Carr in 2014 to make the case to City Council for action. What ended up occurring was that legislation was passed that increased penalties for store owners who are caught retailing BB guns (a city ordinance prohibits BB guns from being sold but is rarely enforced).
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Though the advocacy of Mr. Moore and Ms. Carr had resulted in significant earned media, many in the public expressed confusion as to why this was a priority of the South Philadelphia-based duo, who had organized in October of 2014 a town hall meeting that I moderated about the enforcement of the BB gun city ordinance.
Whatever criticism was hurled ceased the following month when 12 year-old Mr. Tamir Rice, who in a snowy Cleveland park was playing with a toy gun, was killed by a police officer who within seconds of his arrival on the scene used deadly force.
That tragic story – and the news of the City of Cleveland settling with Mr. Rice’s family for $6 million last week – went national and soon after more people it seems were talking publicly about ridding communities of toy guns, or at the very least, were having conversations about the risk toy guns present their youthful owners.
At a memorial for Mr. Rice in Center City Philadelphia in November of 2015, Ms. Erica Mines, an activist and mother who traveled to Cleveland following the shooting to meet with the Rice family who was in possession of a sign that was once held by them, said:
“We should be going after the people who manufacturer these toys guns! Why are they in our communities in the first place?”
The sentiment and question posed by Ms. Mines – who earlier this month interrupted former President Bill Clinton during a stump speech in Philadelphia and bought attention to the impact the 1994 crime bill had on communities of color – was expressed by Mr. Moore and Ms. Carr, who last month made mention of the need to re-engage City Council in order to lobby for legislation that prevents BB guns from making there way to the shelves of convenience stores.
Legislators nationwide must be more proactive in ensuring these toy guns aren’t so easily accessible to the public, minors in particular. But, equally as responsible for prevention are the parents of said minors: the mother of the Baltimore teen shot this week said she knew her child was outside with the gun.
Narratives like that of Tamir Rice and the young Baltimorean – police perceiving a greater threat than what was actually posed due their inability to distinguish a toy from a legitimate weapon – will continue to surface until toy guns are out of the reach of children (in cities) or are made to be drastically distinguishable in look and feel from real firearms.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
About Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
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