In response to gun violence and lethal force used by police, black women in Wisconsin are taking preemptive steps to ensure children aren’t shot by law enforcement. To avoid another Tamir Rice incident, the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin (BHCW) wants black kids to stop playing with toy guns altogether. The organization recently posted an online petition called “Black Moms & Grandmothers Against Toy Guns!,” to encourage black women to dissuade young black children from playing with toy guns, in the hopes of minimizing deadly incidents in the future.
“Gun violence has plagued our communities for far too long,” the petition reads. “Our children grow up playing with toy guns without fully understanding the deadly consequences of the real ones. Once they are adults they quickly resort to gun violence to settle their conflicts. Now our children die at the hands of each other due to gun violence or they die at the hands of police as a result of them having toy guns that look real. Let’s all commit now to not buying our children toy guns and not letting them play with toy guns. Also, let’s not buy video games that promote gun violence.”
The petition, which is also sponsored by Color of Change, points to the shooting of Tamir Rice, as well as the 15-year-old teen who was accidentally shot by an officer because he was standing next to someone holding a toy gun, as examples to back its mission.
Seeing a young boy holding a toy weapon was enough for the president and CEO of BHCW, Dr. Patricia McManus, to back the idea. “This past summer, I looked out my door and there was a kid standing there … he couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old,” she explained. “He had this gun, which turned out to be a toy gun, but he had it down to his side the way that you would see an adult on TV in the streets carrying a gun.”
Although studies indicate that playing with toy guns does not lead to violent behaviors in adulthood, the targeting of black children by law enforcement is more than a perceived threat. Black male teens are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. Reports on police bias confirm that criminality is typically associated with blackness. For instance, officers perceive black boys as older and guiltier than white boys.
Putting the onus on black women to address gun violence is part of a larger trend among women of color who are fighting to raise children in safe environments. The rate at which black youth are killed has been a rallying cry for feminists of color over the past two decades, who argue that law enforcement’s use of deadly force is a threat to reproductive justice.
According to SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, reproductive justice is a comprehensive framework that women of color have long embraced, which focuses on “a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.” Looking beyond abortion access and the right to choose, a primary objective of reproductive justice advocates is addressing systemic issues that impede women’s ability to raise children in a healthy environment.
The conversations have been happening for years, but the widely publicized shootings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice have shone a brighter spotlight on the devastating impacts of police violence.
“We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence,” black activist Jasmine Burnett previously told ThinkProgress. “If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”
Emma Akpan, another activist who penned an op-ed for RH Reality Check last year, shared similar concerns with ThinkProgress. “I grew up listening to women saying, oh Lord, I’m having a son, I’ll have to protect him from the police.”