jewel bush: Should a boy’s BB gun be a matter of life or death?

Print More

jewel bush

My 11-year-old son used his allowance to purchase a BB gun at Academy Sports & Outdoors on a shopping trip with his grandfather a few weeks ago.

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about it. My father, who grew up in Rosa, a rural agricultural community in St. Landry Parish, thought nothing of it. He grew up hunting deer, rabbit and whatever else was in season along with his eight brothers and scores of cousins. Back in his day, as kids, they handled real shotguns, not replicas, and missed weeks at a time of school to help his father in the fields.

I could have gotten really angry with my father and called him up, as I’ve done in the past, to explain why I parent the way I do and give him my speech on why I believe fake guns and weaponry are not suitable playthings.  And, in turn, he would’ve spoke of how he was raised, hunting, fishing, riding horses, slaughtering hogs at boucheries — rites of passage for boy children reared in the country.

But I didn’t.

“What are you going to do with a BB gun?” I questioned my son.

I half heard his answer, “hunting” before unleashing a lecture detailing the dangers of him as a young black boy being seen walking around the city with a toy gun.

“I know. I know,” he interrupted, “I know better than that.”

Over the weekend, Cleveland police shot down Tamir Rice after the authorities received a 9-1-1 call about him being spotted in a park with a gun, an airsoft-type gun that shoots plastic pellets. Tamir was 12, barely older than my son.

The 9-1-1 caller said at least twice that the gun was probably fake. However, the dispatcher doesn’t appear to have revealed that detail to cops. The police report that instead of Tamir raising his hands as directed, he drew the pellet gun from his waistband though he said nothing and did not point it at them. Cops shot Tamir anyway.

I told my son Tamir’s story this week.

There was no change in his voice. Nor facial expression. He was numb. Unfortunately, this is what happens when violence — street violence, police violence, emotional violence — becomes the new rite of passage for our young black youth. When horrific incidents happen so frequently and injustice reigns as the order of the day, they damn near expect tragedy to strike the people they know, those who resemble them and them personally. Eventually.

To cope with this world’s madness, our black youth detach as a means not to live every single day broken to prevent an overdose on sadness.

The cynic in me, a student of history — even recent history with Darren Wilson not being indicted in the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — already knows the outcome of the police shooting investigation of Tamir.

Word choice by the media and law enforcement will be deliberate and calculated to condemn Tamir while justifying yet another murder by the police. Key phrases such as “split second decision,” “life-or-death situation” and “public safety” will be used to drum up sympathy for police, in general. The officers involved, out on administrative leave, will be painted as victims.

Media coverage and police language will turn this preteen into a monster. A narrative of Tamir as a menace will emerge. Every detention he’s ever received at school, every less-than-stellar progress report, any trouble he may have gotten into in his short life will become a matter of record and be offered up as evidence that little Tamir was headed for a life of thuggery.

This is what happens in these cases. The dead are the ones who end up on trial, and the police lifted up as misunderstood heroes.

If law enforcement believes these police shootings are truly tragedies as they say in press conferences to the mourning families and the grieving public, when no indictment decisions are being handed down; if these words are not mere script, why do these killer cops get to gloat in national TV interviews and tout a perverse self-righteousness?

If this is supposed to be our country, one shared with cops and civilians alike, and not some far-off war zone in a hard-to-pronounce mountain range or desert or jungle, why is a black person killed every 28 hours by police officers, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes right here in this country?

Tamir was a 12-year-old boy playing in the park with his BB gun when police shot him. Was he shot because he was a threat to “public safety”? Or was he shot because that’s what happens when cops in America have “split second decisions” to make about young black boys?

So, should I tell my son, the grandchild of a St. Landry Parish-bred outdoorsman, that he cannot have that BB gun? While my son says he “knows better,” the police demonstrate over and over that they do not.

jewel bush is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune and The (Houma) Courier. She has won numerous awards including distinctions from the Louisiana Press Association and the New York Times Regional Media Group. Her short story, “Red Polish” appears in “Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.” Her newest piece, Related Somehow to Africa: Black Palestinians and the Search for Shared Identity, appears in issue 115 of the Harvard journal, Transition.

16 thoughts on “jewel bush: Should a boy’s BB gun be a matter of life or death?

  1. The problem is that we now live in a world where people shoot at cops fairly regularly.

    It used to be a very rare occurrence…In fact, most criminals on the streets avoided shooting/killing cops at all cost because they knew it would bring down the wrath of God upon the streets.
    But….Now we have video games such as Grand Theft Auto which reward one for killing a cop….We have the Gangsta Rap music which idolizes the act of killing a cop….And we have cops getting fired upon on a daily basis.
    Those are the facts. And I’m guessing that many cops are scared to deaths as soon as they see ANYONE pull out a firearm. Unfortunately…From a few yards away, one can not distinguish the difference between an Airsoft “BB-Gun” and an actual firearm that shoots real bullets.

    Personally…I don’t have an answer. My best solution would be to end the War on Drugs.
    By ending the War…We would almost instantly eliminate the gangs which thrive off of the drug trade. We would also have a police force which would no longer waste so many resources going after non-violent drug users.
    We would also much less incarceration which is the number one source of recruitment for the gangs.

    And of course…By ending the War on drugs we would also begin to end much of the animosity which is directed at the police.
    Because lets face it…I’m guessing that the cops thought that this 11 year old was a gang member. It’s not unheard of. And FWIW…it’s also hard to tell the difference between an 11 year old and a 16 y/o.

    • It’s widely believed – and frequently promoted by law enforcement organizations – that police face a greater risk of being killed in the line of duty today than in previous eras.

      However, this is simply not a proposition supported by the facts. Like most violent crimes in America, police officer killings peaked in the early 1970s, and have been steadily declining since then. Firearm-based fatalities have especially shrunk- more officers are now killed by automobiles than guns. 2014 is currently on track to have the fewest officer fatalities since the late 1950s.

      Louisiana does historically have a higher officer fatality rate than most other states (typically in the area of 10th worst state for officer deaths), but the broader trend still holds true here. As such, we shouldn’t accept claims by police that their use of lethal force is a necessary protective measure- especially when police have killed innocent people.

      See the research reports here here for statistical data and further information:

    • >>The problem is that we now live in a world where people shoot at cops fairly regularly.<<

      Citation needed. I doubt it's a common occurrence and I'm willing to bet that the rate of police being fired upon has dropped along with the violent crime rate over the past 20-30 years.

      • Well…after a little digging…You’re somewhat right about the trend of officer deaths decreasing. The deadliest times of officer deaths was during the 1930’s

        Since then…the trend of deaths in the line of duty reported by the FBI has been downward. Yet…at the same time, it’s really hard to distinguish between assaults and deaths. And harder to get the data of cops getting shot at in the line of duty.

        And since medical treatment has advanced so far, I would guess that it’s really been a fairly steady trend instead of a downward trend.

        Lets face it…a cop getting shot at today has a much better chance of surviving than he did 40 years ago. Between the medical advances and bullet proof vests, he is much better off. Yet…It’s still a scary job IMO.

        But it does not help when so many songs and video games idolize the act of killing a cop. And when a toy gun looks almost exactly like a real gun…Its even worse.
        The real problem IMO is that the police are trained to ELIMINATE the THREAT. Its the training….The Militarization of the police. And…The War on drugs combined with that training makes the problem even worse.

  2. No, you shouldn’t have to tell your son that he cannot have a bb gun. You should educate your son on how to use the gun safely. I would suggest that you enroll your son in a gun safety class. Those are required now before he can legally use his gun to hunt anyway.

    In those classes, he will learn that you NEVER EVER point a gun (real gun) at another human being unless it is necessary to defend his life. I would assume there aren’t too many cases when he would need to point it at a police officer to defend his life.

    You should also teach your son to obey the orders of law enforcement. The officers put themselves in harms way on a daily basis to protect and serve all of us. Tamir’s story is a great tragedy, but if he had followed the normal safety laws and listened to the police officer, he would still be alive.

    I don’t claim to know all of the facts but if Tamir was shooting his BB gun in the park, then yes, he was a threat to “public safety.” I wouldn’t want to be running around Audubon park and get shot by a BB gun. That’s why its against the law.

    Just educate your son on the laws and he should be okay. I wouldn’t advise letting your son just walk around town shooting the gun as it is not legal to hunt inside the city limits. If he shoots it safely with your dad in Rosa, I think he will be just fine.

    Furthermore, it’s disheartening that your anger and outrage is pointed toward the police officers that are trying to protect us. I believe the outrage should be towards the real issue of the growing homicide rate of the youth in general.. black on black mostly but all races are involved. Over 50% of homicide offenders in this country are black, but blacks are only 12% of the population. I just wish there would be some outrage over the majority of the homicides and not cherry pick the minute few white on black crimes to feed a race riot narrative.

  3. I never allowed my son any type of toy gun. If he wanted a water pistol, I gave him an empty dish soap bottle. When he was about 13, he traded some toys for a BB gun. After the first day, he had shot a bathroom window and had a dent in his forehead. End of BB gun. A few months later, he traded something else for a water gun. Detective picked him up off the street and rode him home. He never asked for another. Good luck with your son.

  4. Perhaps the parenting of Tamir is an issue? Please tell your son not to take his BB gun to a playground and brandish it at others or someone may call the police because of this unfortunate behavior which struck at least one citizen as threatening and 911 worthy. Most of the kids in my neighborhood growing up had bb guns and the idea was not to “act stupidly”.

  5. Mr. Wilson was not indicted because his actions were not criminal when he shot the strong arm robber and cop puncher. Live with it Jewel. My advise would be to let his grandfather keep the rifle until your son visits. And also you might want to check and make sure your son doesn’t have any fishing hooks in his room.

  6. The killing of any child under any circumstances is horrific…period. I’m a former Marine who lives in the city (Uptown) with a 5 year old child. I refrain from purchasing any toys for my child that give the appearance of a weapon. Common sense tells me that if anyone is walking around in a densely populated area (city/suburb) with something that is or appears to be a weapon, then he/she, white, black, green or purple, will probably draw the concern of others living in that densely populated area, and thus subject themselves to a visit from the local police. With the amount of crime that goes on in this city you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind, to not be concerned with ANYONE walking around in the city with what appears to be a weapon. Walking around in the country with a weapon is a different matter. If you live in the country or have hunted you’ll know that it IS common place to see people walking around with their weapons on display.
    I know my reply to this piece is off topic and does not provide any solution to Ms. Bush’s opinion that overzealous police officers are executing young urban males by the thousands and trashing them in the media as a way to justify the action taken, and in-so-doing creating a generation of urban males that view this as the norm, but what solution can a person like myself provide when I have not been subjected to what quite a few African-Americans have been subjected to in this and other cities in America? Whatever I say will not be sufficient. What has to happen is African-American communities and our local police need to work better together …. need to understand each other and build a better bridge of trust. More money needs to flow into these communities in the form of community services and training and not into the pockets of some well connected self serving self appointed community organizers … I pray this happens for all the Tamir’s out there.

  7. FWIW…I just saw a video of the described shooting of that 11 y/o. The sad thing is that the kid did not have a chance. The cops rode up to him in their car….and within a couple of seconds, the kid was dead. The audio of the cop who reports…”Male suspect down,” says…he thinks the kid is about 20 y/o.

    Bottom line is that because of the War on Drugs….then the War on Terror….we have seen the militarization of police. Their training is to ELIMINATE the Threat.

    So…they saw this kid with what they thought was a real gun…and they eliminated him. And…as you pointed out Jewel….11 y/o’s don’t have good judgement.

    I guess the best advice I could give is for you to make your son watch that video. There’s a link to the video in the below story.

  8. I hope you educate your son about why the law that puts those orange plugs on fake guns is necessary, and that you prevent him from modifying his toy so as to make it appear more real.

    And that when instructed by the police to put his hands up…he knows not to even hesitate.

    And that should go for anyone, white, black, brown, or green.

  9. Jewel, how is this even a question? No, don’t give him a gun of any kind period. If he wants to go hunting, he should be supervised and given a gun only during hunting. How is this not common sense?

  10. I never allowed my boys to have guns and so they made them out of duplos and legos! Boys will be boys and it’s the parents that need to responsible for teaching them about responsible behavior with guns, women, etc…

  11. To Answer Ms. Bush’s Question: “…why is a black person killed every 28 hours by police officers, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes right here in this country?” Assuming her statistics are correct, the answer is also in the statistics—“13% of Americans are black, according to the latest estimates from the US Census Bureau, and according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black offenders committed 52 per cent of homicides recorded in the data between 1980 and 2008.”
    Unwarranted shootings happen every day and unfortunately blacks are disproportionally represented in this number. Racial profiling is the root cause of these unwarranted shootings and is fueled by the undeniable simple statistics quoted above.

  12. This young man is another victim of the thuggish behavior of those who “look like him” because their behavior makes the rest of America frightened of “young black men” who “look like him”. A very good friend of mine was recently savagely pistol whipped by three “young black men”. Then these same “young black men” went on to shoot and kill a pizza delivery man who was working to provide for his family. Why were there no marches, protests, rioting, looting, and burning of businesses over these acts of barbarism? Is it because the victims of these “young black men” were white? Why is the only lasting outrage demonstrated by the black community is when a “young black man” is killed by a white police officer and never over the fact that approximately 93%* of black men who are killed are victims of other black men? America needs to begin to address the true causes of violence against “young black men”….and that is other “young black men” and stop pretending and ignoring the tragic and sad facts of black violence.

    In case Mr. Courreges requires a citation for the statistic I cited…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *