Nearly 90 toy pistols were surrendered at Mildred Helms Park in Newark, New Jersey as part of the Stop Shootin' Music Toy Gun Exchange Program. In the first-of-its-kind event, children exchanged their toy guns for basketballs and Barbie dolls during the event.
Police have long engaged in real gun buy back programs to rid Newark's street of firearms. This time, however, the guns were plastic. The question is: Is this the right move or just a waste of time?
"We're using music as a conduit to stop the trend of incessant gun violence," said Al'Tarik Onque, co-founder of Stop Shootin' Music. "So we said, 'Let's start with the youth and have them lead by example.' I think it's a great first step forward."
To kick off the exchange, Onque and fellow Stop Shootin' Music co-founders Brent "Chicago Jones" Rodgers and Alfred "Pikaso" Dill performed their song "Put Your Guns Down," which preached, "Stop shootin' and think about the precious little brains you're polluting."
"I think toy guns are bad because little kids get a habit and grow up and want to shoot (people)," said one boy, Troy Walker, who wants to become a police officer so he can "save the world."
"Every day on the news, I hear about someone getting stabbed or shot," said Shanae Bunn, who dreams of attending Harvard to become a dentist. Bunn sometimes hears of gun violence near her home. "Every week, someone gets killed or shot over there," she said.
In addition to a new toy, each child received a book donated by the Book'em Newark program, which plans to distribute 100,000 books to children in the city this year.
The program's goal is to boost literacy among youth in the city, a movement that South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka supports: "Literacy is probably the No. 1 deterrent to crime that gets under-talked about, under-resourced, under-utilized. Literacy is key. Populations of cities that have low crime have high literacy and high civic engagement."
"Violence is as American as apple pie," added Baraka. "You have to teach kids early that guns are not toys, that when people get shot, sometimes they don't get back up."
A total of four people were shot and killed in separate incidents throughout Newark last weekend, putting an end to a 20-day, murder-free period in the city.
The toy gun exchange program will continue Friday into Saturday, when Baraka and other city activists will host 24-hour peace, unity and black resistance to violence in Newark.
"Like the same way they do when they get the real guns, we're going to lay them all out and mark them the same way," Baraka said. "We're going to take a picture of it: These are the guns we've taken out of the hands of children."