When a Columbus, Ohio, Police Department officer stopped two black kids who had a BB gun over the weekend, a potentially dangerous situation ended up being a teachable moment, according to NBC News.
Officer Peter Casuccio responded to a call about “two young male blacks” who appeared to have a gun — the kind of situation that has resulted in police killing someone in the past. Casuccio, however, properly analyzed the situation and used it as an opportunity to have a positive impact.
“Do you think I want to shoot an 11-year-old? Do you think I want to shoot a 13-year-old?” Casuccio asked the boys.
“Your life hasn’t even gotten started yet, and it could have ended,” Casuccio said. “Cause I wouldn’t have missed. I want you to think about that tonight when you go to bed. You could be gone.”
When Casuccio identified that the boys were playing with a toy and not an actual weapon, he decided to try to show them how much danger playing with a fake gun could put them in.
“In today’s world, listen, that thing looks real, bro,” Casuccio told them.
Casuccio also met with the mother of one of the boys, and told her that her son pulled the BB gun out of his waistband when he pulled up to them. The boy’s mother agreed with Casuccio about how badly that could have turned out.
“He could have shot you for that. You know that?” she asked the boy.
This writer’s perspective
NBC News reported that some observers took offense to Casuccio’s language. He called one of the kids “boy” and referred to himself as a “pretty bad hombre,” leading to speculation about coded racism. Some wondered if he would have spoken to them the same way if they were white.
Focusing on the officer’s language, crude or not, misses the point. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was killed in Cleveland in 2014 by an officer who mistook his airsoft gun for a real one. Understanding the potential for tragedy, Casuccio didn’t hold back in explaining to those boys that their lives were literally at risk.
And maybe he wouldn’t speak to them the same if they were white. So what? It does them no good to ignore the reality that in some cases, being a minority will cause a different, possibly more aggressive reaction from police. Their lives are more important than their feelings, and their race is a reality of life that they must come to understand.
Those kids won’t ever forget this officer who took the time to show concern for their well-being, and any parent should be thankful for officers who understand that to protect and serve can also mean to teach.