The Columbus, Ohio, Police Department on Monday released a video of one of their officers stopping two black boys with a BB gun and berating them in what the department called a “lesson learned” moment.
While the officer was praised for de-escalating a potentially dangerous situation, some wondered if he would have used a different approach if the children weren’t black.
“This is getting kids killed all over the country,” Officer Peter Casuccio tells an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old after stopping them on Saturday. The Columbus Division of Police released Casuccio’s bodycam footage, blurring the faces of the boys.
The officer tells the boys that he got a call about “two young male blacks” with a gun.
“In today’s world, listen, that thing looks real, bro,” Casuccio says after taking the BB gun from the 11-year-old.
The boys respond to the officer with a few “yes, sirs” and an apology.
“How old are you, boy,” Casuccio asks them. “Do you think I want to shoot an 11-year-old? Do you think I want to shoot a 13-year-old?,” he says after they respond with their ages.
“I pride myself on being a pretty bad hombre cause I got to be. Don’t make me,” Casuccio adds.
Later in the video, Casuccio addresses the 11-year-old and his mother, saying that when he pulled up to the boys, the youngest pulled the BB gun out of his waistband, then dropped it.
“He could have shot you for that. You know that?” the mother asks her son.
“Your life hasn’t even gotten started yet, and it could have ended. Cause I wouldn’t have missed,” Casuccio reiterates. “I want you to think about that tonight when you go to bed. You could be gone.”
“A lesson was learned,” the Columbus Division of Police said in a post with the video on Facebook.
Some said the officer’s intention to make the encounter a teachable one was good, but he could have addressed the boys differently.
“I am glad to see the officer took the time to accurately assess the situation, try to talk to the children about the current world we live in and not use deadly force,” said Danyelle Solomon, senior director on race and ethnicity at the Center for American Progress. “It’s a sad day that I am glad an officer didn’t shoot an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old,” she added.
Still, Solomon said the situation could have been “handled differently,” saying the officer could have taken the boys to their homes to address them instead of doing it with them against a guardrail on the side of the road.
She also said that some of Casuccio’s “scared-straight” and “racially coded” language — such as “boy” and “hombre” — were unnecessary.
“His language was a little questionable at times,” echoed Ronnie A. Dunn, the chief diversity & inclusion officer at the University of Cleveland.
“There is the question regarding whether the situation would have been perceived the same and the conversation been different if the kids were white,” said Dunn, who specializes in racial profiling and inequality, criminal justice and issues facing children and families living in urban areas.
But “at the end of the day, the officer used appropriate restraint, and de-escalation techniques to disarm the subjects, investigate and resolve, without the use-of-deadly force, a situation that could have ended tragically for the youth much like the Tamir Rice case,” Dunn said.
Tamir Rice, 12, was playing with an Airsoft gun outside in Cleveland, Ohio, when he was fatally shot by a police officer.
“Regardless of what people say about the dudes wearing this uniform, we care. We legitimately care,” Casuccio told the 11-year-old and his mom.
Willie Williams, the region 3 president of the National Black Police Association, said he thought Casuccio handled the situation “great.”
“He explained to them that he could have used deadly force but did not because they listened and also because he is not out to shoot people, let alone a 11-year-old and 13-year-old,” Williams said.