Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When playing outside isn't safe: Gun fire on the playground in St. Louis

It was the middle of the day. A little more than a dozen children from the Peabody Apartments (near downtown St. Louis) were outside playing on the playground and jungle gym. Then shots rang out. Apparently a disagreement between two men who were nearby escalated with at least one of them wildly firing shots at the other. Did the assailant land a shot at his intended? No, instead one of his unaimed bullets hit a young 7-year-old girl in the head. The suspect is now in custody but the little girl is still in critical condition.

image courtesy of KMOV.com
His arrest offers little solace to the parents and neighbors of the little girl. There could have been more victims. This is a prime example of why so many inner-city residents do not spend times out-of-doors: fear of safety. Those of us who promote outdoor education and recreation do go on and on about the beauty and serenity and awesome of the outside; but the reality we often skip over is that the environment right-outside for many people in big cities ain't that beautiful or serene or awesome. It can be a war zone – an ugly place where illegal activities and spontaneous gunfire happens near or on playgrounds. It makes my job – as an urban outdoor educator/recreation promoter – very hard, indeed. How can I ask parents to let their kids come outside and play and exercise and get fresh air when bad stuff like this can and does happen? I completely understand why they would protect them at any cost – keeping them inside, letting them watch TV and play video games and snack on tasty treats. It's a natural reaction to bring those whom you love close to you and possibly soothe them.

Perhaps one solution - that still encourages outdoor time and addresses safety concerns is organized activities at public lands. Local, state, and federal parks sometimes offer planned activities and in those situations, security has been factored into the logistics. Safety is in numbers. When more people gather together, there are more eyes and ears on the scene to identify trouble and report it the proper authorities in time. Here are some upcoming National Outdoor Events going on that present a chance to spend time with family and neighbors in an organized fashion. I hope you're able to find a local participating park or site in your area.
  • National Trails Day - June 4, 2011: It's a volunteer event to help clean up and restore hiking trails at public lands all over the country. It's a great way to get outside and have fun. More info at Outdoor Afro.
  • National Get Outdoors Day - June 11, 2011: It is an initiative that supports First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign to fight childhood obesity. Lots of state parks and campgrounds have signed on as official location partners for this event.
  • Great American Backyard Campout - June 25, 2011: Many parks and campgrounds have signed up as partners. Check out the registry and events calendar and you could find a group near you.
  • More? Please offer additional recommendations, local, regional or national.
Finally,listen to Young People's Chorus to New York – NYC Playground (Gunshots) and please share your thoughts and suggestions for dealing with spending time out-of-doors and safety. What would you do to change gun shots on the play ground?

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