By Mikel Kweku Osei Holt
I think I made a mistake.
Several weeks ago I wrote a column about my grandson’s desire to have me buy him a cowboy outfit—complete with hat, vest and two six guns—for his birthday.
Given the current climate of violence in our community and a hodgepodge of incidents in which several children have been killed by police who thought their toy guns were dangerous weapons, I decided to pose a question about my grandson’s desire on Facebook.
The results were not unanticipated. Over 90% of the women quizzed said no. In some cases, declaring emphatically ‘no!’
Nearly 75% of the brothers (and cousins) said yes.
The numbers spoke for themselves, but being a recovering chauvinist, I disregarded the sisters’ concerns, and sided with the minority.
It’s not that I ignored the rationale of the women, particularly the assumption that providing kids with guns promoted violence and desensitized them to the escalating violence that defines our community. But, I countered that argument by asserting that I, and most products of my era, played with toy guns and fantasized about being cowboys.
Maybe a result of our ignorance of American propaganda, we ‘play acted’ that we were John Wayne, or less offensively, the Lone Ranger or Steve McQueen, killing bad guys and Indians.
I know what you’re thinking—that we fell prey to a racist agenda that led to the near genocide of the American Indian. Nope, I factored that in as well, telling my grandson that the Native Americans were the good guys, as were the soldiers in blue, and the sheriffs.
For the record, I also taught him about gun safety and the responsible use of a weapon.
Obviously, my decision was a self-serving paradox to justify my decision to bring a smile to my grandson’s face. But in truth when weighed against the rationale of the majority, it didn’t hold up.
I admitted as much Monday evening during a meeting of the Old Schoolers. Among the speakers was Dr. Pat McManus who provided a presentation on a Black Health Coalition education campaign to educate parents on the link between violence and toy guns.
It was a compelling presentation punctuated by a brief mention of the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
The 12-year-old youth was playing with a bb gun on a Cleveland playground in his neighborhood when police arrived. After confronting Tamir, one of the officers shot him, saying he pulled a ‘gun’ on him.
The exact circumstances of the incident sparked protests and confrontations with the police. But that’s another story.
The point here is that a toy gun held by a Black youngster caused his death.
Our discussion about the Health Coalition’s soon-to-be announced crusade morphed into a debate about the prevalence of guns in the community, the lack of training and egos of those who legally possess them, and the availability of guns to children.
But those comments paled in comparison to a short statement by Al Holmes, a former law enforcement officer who recalled a homicide case that has plagued him for decades.
A Black boy had shot and killed a close friend. When police arrived and questioned the assailant he seemed irritated by their inquiries, finally saying it wasn’t a big deal, because the victim would “be back tomorrow.”
Confused and angered by his comment, Al pulled the blanket off the victim and forced the assailant to look at his dead body.
Exacerbated, the assailant repeated his statement, adding that he watched television shows where an actor was killed one day, only to reappear in another show the next day.
That’s what he believed would happen to his friend.
The kid lived in a fantasy land, one of make believe created not out of reality but of television propaganda and ignorance.
Al’s statement was a sobering point in our discussion that led me to apologize for my decision. I should have bought my grandson more books, or a tablet with educational games instead of a cowboy hat and six guns, even though they were orange.
As my grandson gets older I will put him in karate class—as was the case for each of my sons—to teach him self-defense and provide him with the skills to protect himself and his family.
At a later date, I will also teach him about guns, their safe use and role in an uncivilized society.
On his next birthday his birthday gift will be something more appropriate—and safer—than a toy gun.