Anti-Gang Paintball Program Starts Battles, Confuses Law Enforcement

Some Detroit residents have hit the streets to wage paintball wars and combat gang violence as part of a movement called #PaintballsUpGunsDown.

by Raz Robinson
VICE News Youtube

Police in several cities are trying to stop citizens from painting the town red (and blue and pink and yellow) with paintball guns after the anti gang-violence hashtag #PaintballsUpGunsDown, which asked gang members to fire paintball guns instead of actual guns, spread on social media. However, as the movement, which began in Detroit, spreads to such cities as Atlanta, property damage bills and concerns over the realistic look and feel of some paintball guns, are racking up, and many city governments to crack down on the movement.

According to Vice News, the #PaintballsUpGunsDown movement first gained traction in early April. “Everywhere you go you would see a gun, but now when we started paintballing, everywhere we went we’d see a paintball,” Quinton Kisor, a founder of the movement, told VICE News. Tonight. “I’d rather get hit with a paintball than a bullet.”

Residents who participate in #PaintballsUpGunsDown believe that the game provides a much-needed opportunity for certain at-risk residents to build stronger relationships with each other in a way that can tangibly curb gun violence. This sentiment isn’t wrong. Physical activities like sports, and yes, like paintballing too, have been found to give teenagers some of the same things that they would otherwise seek out in a gang — specifically community, safety, and excitement.

“We squashed a lot of beef that was going on, cause it was a couple of dudes who really ain’t fuck with each other. When I saw them together, I knew this shit was real,” said Kisor.

Despite the positive community building outcomes, the police department isn’t amused. Chief of Police James Craig calls the paintball guns “replica firearms,” and fears that police could eventually mistake one of the toy guns for a real weapon. But as paintball battles waged, innocent bystanders were often caught in the crossfire. Last week, the Detroit police department began to make arrests related to the paintball wars.

“Police officers could be confronting someone with a replica weapon or in this case a paint gun, they may make the mistake, thinking it’s a real firearm, and feel threatened,” said Chief Craig. “There may be a deadly response to that.”

Still, Kisor and his associates say they feel that the police’s inclination to accidentally shoot innocents has nothing to do with paintball guns, or how real they may look.

“To the police it’s going to look like a real gun period, no matter what it is” said Detroit local Kendall Hayes. “It could be a water gun, to the police it’s gonna look like a real gun.”

Haye’s analysis isn’t unfounded. Between 1997 and 2001, about 60 percent of paintball injuries were from pellet damage, mostly to the eyes. The other 40 percent were due to injuries from overexertion. But in 95 percent of paintball related injuries, the afflicted party is treated and released with no difficulty. Conversely, the Detroit police department has an ugly history of shooting first and asking questions later.

A Michigan State Police trooper named Jerold ‘FatalForce’ Blanding was just acquitted for fatally shooting an unarmed teenager last year. In 2010, a seven-year-old girl named Ayana Jones was killed in her sleep by a stray bullet after Detroit police officers launched flash bang grenade into the wrong home and immediately opened fire. On top of the police department’s difficult history of wrongful killings, an overwhelming majority of paintball guns, with highly visible extensions meant to hold paintball pellets and compressed nitrous, make the toys easily distinguishable from ‘real’ weapons.

“They hate it, they hate us, about us being young and black,” said Kisor. “ I’d rather the city have to take the paint off the building than picking up dead bodies, any day. We already the murder capital, if we could paintball each other and don’t kill each other, what would you rather have?”