It’s a sorry state of affairs when mainstream media outlets are praising public servants for performing their jobs adequately, but that’s apparently where we are in 2018.
On Wednesday, CNN published an article titled, “Instead of firing at an 11-year-old with a bb gun, an Ohio officer teaches him a lesson.” The piece focuses on an incident that occurred last weekend in Columbus, Ohio, in which a white officer, Peter Casuccio, drew his weapon on two black boys. The boys, ages 11 and 13, were approached by Casuccio after a caller reportedly said the kids “flashed” the BB gun (a claim one of them denied). Upon being approached, one of the boys pulled the BB gun from his waist and tossed it to the ground.
Most of the interaction is caught on Casuccio’s body camera, which was later shared by the Columbus Ohio Police Department in a tweet that functions both as a PSA and a PR move.
“This is getting kids killed all over the country,” Casuccio told the boys at the beginning of the posted video, referring to their BB guns.
Given how many people, especially black boys and young men were unarmed when they were shot, beaten, or Tased, it would seem that what’s getting people killed across the country isn’t police mistaking BB guns for real weapons, but jittery cops.
It’s not surprising that the Columbus Police Department framed the incident in this way. It is surprising when a platform like CNN appears to support the framing, interviewing the police officer and telling the story largely from his perspective, without pushing back or providing a wider perspective on some of Casuccio’s comments.
On the video, Casuccio tells the kids, “I pride myself on being a pretty bad hombre because I’ve got to be.” He then repeatedly reminds the kids that he could have killed them—he doesn’t want to, but he could have killed them.
“I could tell they were both scared, so I thought it was a teachable moment,” Casuccio told CNN, explaining that he went into “dad mode.” He used the opportunity to deliver an impromptu lecture to the boys as they stood on the side of the road.
“I’m so sorry,” one of the boys says as Casuccio talks to them.
“You should be sorry, and you should be scared,” Casuccio said.
The 13-year-old boy tells the other, “You pulled [the gun] out, you should have just”—the boy raises his arms, his hands up—“‘I got it right here.’”
“Nah, I didn’t want him to shoot me,” says the younger one.
These are clearly not the kids you need to tell to fear cops, though Casuccio felt the need to do so. These are clearly not the kids who need an extended lecture on how high the stakes are for them when they make mistakes—though, being kids, they are still likely to make them.
As CNN reports, the 13-year-old’s mother ended up picking up her child from the scene, while Casuccio took the 11-year-old—who was about to head home on foot—back to his parents’.
Talking to CNN, Casuccio recalls telling the child, “Not today, little man ... You’ve got to go answer for your sins to momma.”
At the kid’s doorstep, Casuccio continued his lecture, telling the child in front of his mother:
“I’ve had to do things that I hope that your generation never has to do. Having that said, the last thing I ever want to do is shoot an 11-year-old man because your life hasn’t even gotten started yet, and it could’ve ended because I wouldn’t have missed.”
“Right,” the 11-year-old responded.
“I could have killed you. I want you to think about that tonight when you go to bed,” Casuccio said. “Everything you want to do in this life could’ve been over.”
The implications of this statement are never raised, let alone challenged. An 11-year-old, in calculating the path least likely to get him killed, made a poor choice in throwing a BB gun to the ground. But that can hardly be called a “sin.” Were it not for an American culture that has fostered and protected an aggressive police state, it wouldn’t be viewed as one. It’s particularly telling that Casuccio refers to the child as an “11-year-old man” before reminding him, again, that he could have killed him—placing the weight of that possibility on the child’s behavior.
The implication in his words is clear: Casuccio would have been justified. He might not have “wanted” to do it, but he would have been justified.
To be clear, it’s not improper to call attention to incidents like this that end peacefully. This incident, in terms of its outcomes, ought to be the norm. So, I don’t find fault with drawing the reader’s eyes to these stories, particularly when, as CNN notes, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed less than 100 miles away from the site of this incident in 2014, while also holding a BB gun. But to whom you give a platform to matters, the context you provide matters, and the quotes you don’t push back on or examine critically matter.
Talking to CNN, Columbus police spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis credited Casuccio’s actions to his deescalation training, which the department “routinely does,” writes the news outlet.
The officer’s actions helped save the boy’s life and prevented “this situation from becoming a horrible national story.”
But Casuccio, a four-year veteran, said he is “not this gem.”
He is not.
He was a cop who literally just did the job taxpayers are paying him to do, and then told two pre-teens that the only reason they’re not dead is because they got lucky.
It would be helpful if the media recognized that.