Another child has been killed. Andy Lopez was playing with a toy on Oct. 22 near his home in a Latino community in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Northern California. A sheriff’s deputy pulled the trigger and hit the 13-year-old seven times, fearing that his toy assault rifle might be real. His partner, sitting next to him in the car, held his fire. That patience was a better approach. Who is responsible for this death?
“The shots were fired within 10 seconds of the deputies’ first report of a suspicious person,” according to the daily Press Democrat. Why was he suspicious? Does it have to do with the fact that he lives in a Latino neighborhood? Or that he was wearing a hoodie, as some of my college students do?
“Boys with toys” goes a popular saying. Boys like to play with toys, including guns and swords. As a 13-year-old boy living on a military base, I played with toy guns, as did most boys there. They did not look like assault rifles back then. This killing was not caused by the boy doing what boys do but by the corporations who make and profit from such deadly toys and the society that accepts this. What do such modern toys say about our culture? Who benefits? What are we teaching our youth?
Andy lay dead at the scene.There is a larger picture here of the killing of children in America. The tendency is to either blame or defend the deputy who killed the innocent youth. This article seeks to present an analysis of the problematic context within which this and similar shootings have occurred. Unless we address that context, such shootings of children and other innocent people are likely to continue and even increase.
The sheriffs yelled at the boy. Being yelled at by adults, he may have froze, panicked, been frightened, or confused. What would you have done at 13 when faced with real military weapons, not the ones on your video games? If I were his age and playing with a toy and two armed men–who in my case would have been MPs (military police)–yelled at me, I could imagine freezing.
A former MP, Brian Bushon, is quoted in the daily as saying, “No one needed to hop out of the car and shoot him. The cops should realize 13-year-olds don’t carry AK-47s.”
This pre-Halloween story produced a “Beware of Kids” letter to the local daily editor addressed to “law enforcement agencies, warning that “several children will be dressed in costumes and sporting plastic, swords, daggers, light sabers, cap pistols and airsoft guns.” The writer pleaded, “Kindly refrain from shooting them.”
“A Shooting that Demands an Explanation” entitled the Press Democrat’s editorial. It bemoans the “missed opportunities to resolve this situation peacefully.” It questioned “those who design, sell and purchase these weapons.” It concludes, “A heart-broken community needs a clearer understanding of how this all could happen—and how it won‘t happen again.”
Andy’s death reveals how gun-saturated, trigger-happy our culture has become. Might this be a symptom of the further slide of America into more violence? America kills too many of its children. In addition to a full inquiry into the militarized police action, we need to make these toy assault rifles illegal and sue the corporations that make and profit from them.
The budget of the U.S. military is about equal to those of all the other countries in the world. The U.S. arms industry is also the largest in the world, which includes these toy assault weapons, which condition children to buy the real ones. The U.S. has the largest per-capita of incarcerated people on the globe. Connect the dots and imagine our future. The U.S. is increasingly becoming a fortress, which invites rather than repels attack, and creates rather than reduces “terrorists.” We must be doing something wrong, which starts at an early age.
America is becoming like the ancient Greek god Cronus, who ate his children. We send our own teen-agers off to fight losing wars. They return home, where more commit suicide than were killed in combat.
Since the killing, there have been daily events in response. On Oct. 30, Wed., a large “Unity March for Justice” is scheduled from the Latino community where the Lopez family lives to City Hall.
(Shepherd Bliss, firstname.lastname@example.org, teaches college part time, farms, and has contributed to two-dozen books.)