Video of an Ohio officer confronting a pair of Black youths fiddling with a BB gun has drawn mixed reaction from critics and reignited the national debate surrounding race and policing.
Columbus police Officer Pete Casuccio responded to a 911 call Saturday about someone “brandishing a gun,” but arrived to find that the “guy” was actually an 11-year-old African-American boy and his 13-year-old cousin, according to CBS News. Police body cam footage from the incident showed Casuccio draw his gun and order the youths to the ground before recovering what turned out to be a BB gun.
“You can’t do that, dude, in today’s world. Listen, that thing looks real, bro,” the officer says in the video.
A frightened Ja-Kwan Sowell, 11, quickly apologizes: “I’m sorry.”
“You should be sorry, and you should be scared,” Casuccio replies before adding, “I could have killed you … I want you to think about that tonight when you go to bed. You could be gone. Everything you want to do in this life could’ve been over.”
Thankfully, the incident ended with what Columbus PD called a “life lesson” rather than a fatal shooting. Similar incidents have ended tragically for 13-year-old Tyre King, who was holding a BB gun when officers shot and killed him in 2016. Tamir Rice, 12, suffered the same fate in 2014 after an officer mistook his pellet gun for the real thing.
“Do you think I want to shoot an 11-year-old?” Do you think I want to shoot a 13-year-old?” Casussio asks the boys.
“No sir,” they reply.
In an interview with CNN, the third-generation officer said he went into “dad mode” when he saw the two youths playing with what appeared to be a real gun. He said that incident was the closest he has ever come to firing his weapon, noting how it was almost “too late” before he realized the children’s gun was a fake.
“If you have two kids in front of you — and it almost ended in deadly force — you have an obligation as a steward of your community and to the men and women you work with to grab them by the ear and sit them down and say, ‘Hey, man, this isn’t the way it works,’” he told host Brooke Baldwin.
Not everyone was impressed with Casuccio’s heroics, however.
“Why is your department trying to pat themselves on the back for NOT shooting some Black kids who had a BB Gun?” one critic wrote on the department’s Facebook page. “Open Carry is LEGAL in Ohio. White people, INCLUDING WHITE CHILDREN walk around openly brandishing REAL GUNS all the time. Do you threaten them with murder?”
Still, there were those who commended the officer for showing restraint and doing “the right thing.”
“Thank you Officer Cassucio,” another person wrote. “I’m crying as I write this because you did the right thing and our Country needs hero’s like you and your discretion. Don’t listen to naysayers. All people deserve praise for doing what is right. Thank you for Your Service & God Bless You and Yours…”
After the incident, video shows Casuccio walk Sowell home and explain to his mother what nearly happened to her son. Tielissa Sowell told station ABC 6 she had no idea her son had a weapon and that she doesn’t allow him to play with realistic-looking guns. Realizing how close her son had come to being shot brought her to tears, she said.
“He’s my only child,” Tielissa Sowell said. “I could have lost him, I really could have.”
Watch more in the clip below.