Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley says Smale Park shooting is an issue of 'values,' inaction on gun law

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Posted at 3:44 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 21:49:22-04

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley described the July 4 shooting in Smale Park — and incidents like it across the city — as indicative of an issue of personal values and a state legislature unwilling to take action on gun violence despite high-profile attacks.

He’s hopeful that a soon-to-be-announced partnership between Hamilton County, the office of acting U.S. Attorney Vipal J. Patel and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will strike more directly at the problem than state lawmakers, he added.

In the meantime, Cranley echoed other city leaders who insisted that changing policing practices or increasing police presence would not have stopped the July 4 attack.

“What we ultimately need is for the community to step up as well and to recommit to true values of self-love and not believing if someone calls you a name or is disrespectful that shooting them is an appropriate response,” he said.

Cincinnati police believe the two casualties of the July 4 shooting — 16-year-old Princeton High School student Milo Watson and 19-year-old Dexter Wright Jr. — were the two shooters. Chief Eliot Isaac said Monday the pair had a prior disagreement that followed them that night to Smale Park, where they began to argue and eventually shot one another shortly before 11 p.m.

Watson died at the scene. Police, who had already been in the park to shepherd its 400-some July 4 celebrants out in time for its closing, provided emergency care to Wright and three injured bystanders. All were hospitalized; Wright died at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center a few hours later.

One victim, a 17-year-old girl, remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Neither of the guns used in the battle had been recovered by Tuesday night.

Although shootings in Cincinnati have decreased 14% since 2020, the summer of 2021 has been unusually dense with shootings that injure children. A June 12 attack outside a Westwood convenience store left a 6-year-old injured and 8-year-old Marcellus Whitehead in a medically induced coma. Sixteen-year-old Galevon Beauchamp was fatally shot crossing Reading Road on June 21.

When asked if a curfew for teenagers would have helped prevent the July 4 confrontation, Cranley pointed out that there had been a curfew: The park was about to close, the police were on the scene, and Watson and Wright attacked each other anyway.

He suggested instead that a better way to prevent gun violence would be for Ohio to impose harsher penalties on people who have illegal guns, require stronger background checks and to implement red flag laws, which would remove or suspend some individuals' right to possess a gun if police and a judge agreed there was reason to keep firearms away from them.

"Neither the governor nor the general assembly have been willing to take up this legislation," he said. "And remember, on the Fountain Square shooting a couple years ago, the shooter's own mother in Florida had tried to go to the police and suggest that her son was a danger. And yet they didn't have a red flag law either, and so that didn't happen."

Because police have not recovered the guns used in this specific shooting, it's unclear whether the two young men in Smale Park had acquired them illegally. Cranley conceded he didn't know and returned to the idea of values.

The urge to shoot another person during an argument, he said, comes from "macho BS" and poor examples.

"Fundamentally, if you have teenagers shooting each other, they have the wrong values," he said. "It’s simple. Of course, it starts at home. It starts at school. It starts with communities. It starts with role models. When I was a kid, we had fistfights – that wasn’t good either, violence is never the answer – but when you step it up from fistfights to knives to guns, it has life-devastating consequences."