As Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake kicked off a reconciliation event Wednesday at the intersection where protests erupted in the city following Freddie Gray's death in police custody last year, a 13-year-old boy in possession of a replica gun was shot by police across town. The incident and its unfortunate timing has left a community already struggling to find answers with even more unanswered questions regarding police presence and public safety.
Baltimore police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the boy was shot twice by a plainclothes intelligence detective following a 150-yard foot chase which began after the officer and his partner identified themselves as police and demanded the boy put down the gun. The detectives believed the boy was in possession of a real semiautomatic pistol and turning to point it at them, Davis said. "No police officer wants to shoot a 13-year-old," local news station WBALTV reported he said.
Davis defended the actions of his officers, saying they were compelled to act when they say what they thought was a real firearm. "I have no reason to believe that these officers acted inappropriately at this moment. They got out of a car and engaged with a person who looked like he had a gun in his hand. That's what we're supposed to do, that's what cops do." According to police, the boy had been carrying a Daisy Powerline 340 .177 caliber BB gun, which CNN reports Davis said was "a dead-on ringer for a Beretta 92FS semi-automatic pistol."
Discussion on whether police are responding with excessive force to suspects in possession of replica guns isn't limited to Baltimore, but the truth is very little modern data appears to exist on how often police respond to calls or crimes that involve fake guns. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the most comprehensive data on the matter comes from a Police Executive Research Forum report that is 25 years out of date. Although the report concluded incidents with real firearms were reported by police with more frequency, it noted that "many of the confrontations between police officers and persons with toy guns seem to have unusually tragic elements," the CSM reported.
The incident is being investigated by the Baltimore Police Department's Special Investigations Response Team and the boy is being treated for non-life threatening injuries at Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Along with coinciding with the one-year anniversary of protests of Gray's death from a spinal cord injury while in police custody, Wednesday's shooting comes two days after Cleveland police agreed to pay the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot and killed by police while carrying a replica handgun, $6 million in a federal settlement.