Zahiem Salahuddin, a 13-year-old 8th grade student, was playing with his friends on the basketball court in Grays Ferry, Pa., this past summer. Salahuddin had a plastic toy gun that shot an orange plastic ball. A white boy was hit with the plastic ball. It was unclear which child shot the ball that hit the other child.
Salahuddin rode his bike home later, but was stopped by men in a black pickup truck who told him he shot at a Philadelphia police officer’s son. Police in marked cars then arrived and Salahuddin was arrested, charged, and spent three days in jail.
For an orange plastic ball from a $3.50 toy, he faced simple assault, reckless endangerment and possession of an “instrument of crime.”
The trial initially had been postponed to November after the DA’s office refused the request by Salahuddin’s lawyers to open court proceedings to the media. Several advocacy groups also prepared to defend him.
Leola Hardy, chief of the Children and Youth Justice Unit at the Defender Association, which is representing Salahuddin said, “someone needs to apologize to Zahiem. He’s the real victim here. The police need to apologize. The complainant’s mother needs to apologize. The [assistant] DAs who handled the case need to apologize. The system needs to apologize to Zahiem.”
The mother of the alleged victim is a police officer who called up her buddies to arrest Zaheim, Hardy said. The police report states the victim, a few years younger than Zaheim, identified him as the shooter.
Zaheim even cited in an interview the shootings of Black males by police nationally, and said that he knew not to reach for the toy when the officers approached him that day asking him how to unclip it from his waistband.
“I wasn’t gonna touch it,” he told Philly.com.
He must’ve learned from Tamir Rice, age 12, who was shot and killed by police officers for playing with the same type of toy in Cleveland, Ohio, almost four years ago.
Zaheim spent the night in a cell inside the First District police station at 24th and Wolf Streets, and two days in the Youth Study Center in West Philadelphia. He’s now on home detention, permitted to go to school and football practice with the South Philadelphia Hurricanes, for which he is the star running back.
“I don’t want anything to tarnish his record,” his mother, Zakiyyah Salahuddin, said.