Activists have begun calling for the mayor of Tampa to publicly apologize after he seemed to blame a 14-year-old boy for his own death. After Edward James Harris IV was killed on May 31 in the middle of the day, one of several recent teen homicides in the city, Mayor Bob Buckhorn talked with neighbors at the scene of the crime and said that for "these young people, if they want to end up a statistic, either incarcerated or dead, the choice is theirs," reported the Tampa Tribune.
"Either get out of the life and find good role models, or you end up in the street in a pool of blood at age 14. That's the reality," he added. "These young men who solve every dispute with a gun for even the simplest slights or neighborhood beefs, it's becoming an epidemic. It's just senseless. When I was growing up, you settled things with your fists. You didn't automatically pull out a gun and solve every argument with a gun."
After the remarks, a Change.org petition was circulated this week. Several local op-eds also demanded that the mayor apologize for his comments. "Edward James Harris IV, 14, was killed May 31st by a single gunshot in broad daylight at a public park," the Change.org petition reads. "He was the 18th homicide victim this year, which represents a sharp increase over 2014. What makes this already tragic situation even worse is the response the victim received from his Mayor. While the boy had been victimized twice before being murdered, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn showed just how out of touch he is by making demeaning comments and blaming Harris for his own death."
Buckborn clarified his comments this week. "I was talking about the need to intervene in the lives of these young men before they make bad choices," Buckhorn said. "The whole problem is we have young men killing each other, taking the wrong path in life and getting seduced by the streets or the gangs. But what I said had nothing to do with E.J."
In the year before his death, Harris had been a victim or a witness in at least three criminal cases, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He witnessed a stabbing in August, was robbed in January and was shot at in April. The attempted shooting led to the arrest of a 16-year-old, which some have speculated as being the cause of his death.
Tampa has had 18 homicides already this year and Harris' death remains unsolved. His brother Marcus blamed himself for being the initial target of the violence that killed his brother.
"He never did nothing to nobody," Marcus, 16, told the Tampa Bay Times. "This is my worst fear, something happening to him."