The paintball “wars” have been linked by police in several of the cities to a movement known as “paintballs up, guns down” or “guns down, paintballs up.” The campaign was started by hip-hop artists, namely Atlanta-based rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, also known as 21 Savage, according to CBS 46.
During the news conference, Franckowiak also attributed Milwaukee’s uptick to 21 Savage.
“He started the movement in an effort to stop the shootings in the inner cities,” she said. “It’s kind of morphed into something other than what he anticipated, I think. Now these kids have been shooting unsuspecting citizens as opposed to their friends during these paintball wars.”
While the “wars” encourage people to trade deadly bullets for paintballs, police say the air-powered weapons are dangerous, especially if a person is shot in the face or eyes. Paintballs can be fired at speeds of up to 300 feet per second, Franckowiak said.
When played in appropriate venues, enthusiasts usually wear protective gear, including face masks, thick gloves and sometimes even chest protectors made to look like tactical body armor.
Without proper protection, those little balls can sting when they hit bare skin and cause bruises, abrasions and welts. They can also cause serious eye damage, including loss of vision or an eye, according to a study in International Ophthalmology.
Two shooting deaths have also been linked to paintball-related incidents, police said.
On April 1 in Atlanta, carloads of paintball-wielding pranksters fired on a gas station. A teen hit by the paint pellets was accused of using a handgun to fire back at his attackers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. A car carrying 3-year-old T’Rhigi Diggs, who was asleep in the back seat, was caught in the crossfire, according to AJC. Diggs was shot in the chest and killed.
Less than three weeks later, Zyquarius Shalom Quadre Bradley, a 19-year-old in Greensboro, was killed in a shooting tied to a paintball fight, police said. Before his death on April 20, police confiscated paintball guns from him, Fox 8 reported. Bradley was later found in a parked vehicle with two gunshot wounds. The vehicle was covered in paint splatters, police said.
“We strongly believe that these activities led to the death of a young man,” Capt. Nathaniel Davis with the Greensboro Police Department told Fox 8.
In the month of April, Greensboro police responded to nearly 40 reports of paintball-related incidents, according to Fox 8.
“This is not safe, and this is not something that’s acceptable,” Davis said. “There’s a family that’s lost the life of a young person, and that continues to bother me. It bothers me personally as a man in this community that another young man has lost his life. And so with that we want to make sure people understand the seriousness of what’s going on.”
Police are urging people to stop participating in the paintball wars, threatening arrests and felony charges.
Sgt. John Chafee of the Atlanta Police Department told CBS 46 that it’s against the law to discharge any air gun within city limits and that firing paintball guns at a moving car with people inside is considered a felony.
“It appears that this is being promoted as some type of game on social media, but this is certainly not something we consider a game,” Chafee said. “If we catch people engaging in this type of activity, they’re going to be arrested.”
In Detroit at least six arrests have been made in connection with paintball attacks, Chief of Police James Craig said during a news conference Friday. Within a week, Detroit police received more than 95 complaints about paintball guns, USA Today reported.
Craig added that while police appreciate any attempts to reduce gun violence, paintball wars are “misguided,” referring to the movement as “paint up, guns down.”
“We’re saying today, stop don’t do it,” he said. “If you want to work with us to stop the violence there are a number of things we can work on together, but having paintball wars across the city is not the way to do it.”
In addition to the property damage and minor injuries, police say they are concerned paintball guns could be mistaken for real weapons.
Shooting at an unsuspecting person, for example, someone with a concealed carry permit or an armed police officer, could result in death or serious injury because they could think “you’re robbing them or something like that,” said Franckowiak, of the Milwaukee Police Department.
Craig said he would mistake a paintball gun for an actual weapon.
Although only property damages have been reported in Detroit, Craig implored the public to “put down the paint guns” before people get hurt.
“When you talk about stopping the violence, that part is well-intentioned, and maybe the idea of ‘paint up’ in a controlled environment might not be a bad idea,” Craig said. “There are places where young people or adults can go and use paintball guns in a very safe, sane environment. But you can’t do it in the public streets, you can’t shoot at cars, you can’t shoot at random people.”
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