ATLANTA - An Atlanta rapper credited with starting a social media campaign to discourage gun violence – by encouraging paintball guns instead – is now being blamed for a nationwide wave of paintball gun shootings.
Three weeks ago, rapper 21 Savage publicly stepped up to pay for the funeral of 3-year-old T’Rhigi Diggs, a DeKalb County boy who was killed by a stray bullet as he slept in the back of his mother’s SUV.
Police determined that the boy was caught in the cross hairs of a “paintball war” taking place at a nearby gas station.
He was shot when a teenager who had been paintball-splattered by pranksters tried to retaliate with a real gun.
Paintball wars are becoming more and more common in cities across the country, according to a story posted Wednesday in USA Today, and in some cases, the paintball wars have ended with real bullets.
Atlanta police have responded to 34 paintball-related incidents this year, with a particular uptick in April, said Stephanie Brown, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Police Department. Brown said most of these incidents have involved groups of people targeting each other as part of a game. At least one innocent person has been hit by a paintball, and private property has been struck as well.
Paintball guns use pressurized air to shoot paint-filled gel capsules at up to 300 feet per second, or just over 200 miles per hour. At this speed, the pellets can do damage to property and cause injuries. However, some people — like Christopher Cullins, the middle school student accused of shooting 3-year-old T’Rhigi -- have been responding to attacks with real violence.
Besides T’Rhigi, one other death in North Carolina has been linked to the trend.
The rash of paintball attacks started in late March, around the same time 21 Savage, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, began posting videos to YouTube and social media that depicted him driving around to various Atlanta neighborhoods and spraying cars using a paintball gun. The campaign, which has gained traction under the mantra “paintballs up, guns down,” was initially intended to curb gun violence by encouraging people to shoot paintballs instead of bullets.