The Columbus Ohio Police released video footage on Monday of Officer Peter Casuccio’s weekend encounter with a pair of black boys, aged 11 and 13, who had been reported for having a firearm. The surprise twist? The officer pulled his weapon and didn’t kill the children. Instead, he assessed the situation calmly, discovered the kids were carrying a BB gun then gave them a very serious safety lecture. Because we live in America in 2018, a video of the encounter went viral and the lack of bloodshed made national news. So there’s good news and bad. The good news is that Casuccio seems to be rather good at his job; the bad news is that this is news.
Of course, that novelty is why the Columbus police released the video in the first place. After all, they’re operating in the same state where Tamir Rice was gunned down by an officer while also playing with a BB gun. That encounter lasted mere seconds and unlike the children in Columbus, Rice wound up dead
For those keeping track — as we all should be — Ohio is also the state where John Crawford III was killed by police in a Wal-Mart as he carried an unpackaged BB gun through the store. It appears Crawford, who picked up the BB gun while shopping, intended to buy the toy. Video surveillance footage shows police shooting Crawford almost immediately.
In both of these cases, the officers who killed these unarmed black males continued to work for the police after receiving a mild slap on the wrist.
The killings of those two black boys and men provide important context for the encounter captured by Casuccio’s body cam. “This is getting kids killed all over the country,” he tells the boys after the initial confrontation ends. The boy who was holding the gun is clearly shaken and apologetic. “You should be sorry,” Casuccio says. “And you should be scared.”
Casuccio is right. He’s also helping serve and protect his community by teaching black boys they should fear cops. It’s an important, if unlikely, lesson coming from a man in blue and he deserves to be commended for teaching it. He also deserves to be commended for using de-escalation and community policing techniques. Instead of shooting first and asking questions later, Casuccio sought to keep everyone safe — not just himself. This is what police are supposed to do.
Casuccio noted to CNN that he doesn’t think he’s an anomaly in the police force. And while it would be great to believe him, there is a long enough list of black children to warrant suspicion of this claim. That said, I believe Casuccio when he tells one of the boys, “The last thing I ever want to do is shoot an 11-year-old man because your life hasn’t even gotten started yet….” This is no doubt the truth and, the fact is, it took some courage to go into the situation determined to not shoot the children. Again, this should not be anomalous, but it’s still laudable.
If more cops followed Casuccio’s example, respect for the police would be all but guaranteed. The reactionary (and racist) Blue Lives Matter signs would never crop up. Life matters, but even more when lived in service of others.
Casuccio, in word and deed, has exposed the distance between what policing is in America and what it ought to be. But, in so much as this is a news story, it should be remembered as a news story about two boys. A cop helped them. A cop taught them a lesson. A cop kept them safe. They’ll remember that. They likely still won’t trust cops — and probably shouldn’t — but they’ll remember Casuccio, which they certainly should.