Nine-year-old Musa Musa scampered past the pavilion, blue pistol ready.
He ran in a loop, head turning, looking for the right target. He found one: a girl, unsuspecting. Musa snapped the trigger. A line of water slithered perfectly down her back.
“Oh!” shouted his cousin, Ahmed Musa, 11. “You’re going to shoot unarmed girls?”
The boys laughed and looked for more victims at Evelyn K. Davis Park, known as Forest Park to the neighbors. They were here Tuesday evening for a water balloon fight, organized by a family member and promoted by Black Lives Matter Des Moines as a respite from the serious work of anti-racism advocacy.
Before the game began, Musa explained his plan: “The strategy is just to shoot some people behind their backs — probably when they’re running.”
“Probably sneak up behind people,” Ahmed added. “Get behind them.”
Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Musa, a relative of both boys, helped organize the event with his former Roosevelt High School classmate, Hala Deng, 20. Both participated in Black Lives Matter marches over the last three weeks, and Deng printed T-shirts to raise bail money for arrested protesters.
Deng and Musa began planning the event on Thursday to support neighborhood children. Black Lives Matter Des Moines promoted the water balloon fight on social media.
“It was definitely tense,” Deng said of the protests. “This was a way to loosen that tension and get everyone together.”
Deng ordered 1,500 balloons off Amazon. Musa, meanwhile, secured about 1,000 balloons at Walmart, clearing the store’s shelves into two carts Monday afternoon.
“Everybody was just eyeing me down,” he said.
Young men and teenage boys at the park Tuesday spread the children into two groups in a field at about 6:30 p.m. Music by Nas, Kendrick Lamar and DaBaby thumped from speakers. Hot dogs sizzled on a grill. Women prepared meals for the children under a nearby pavilion, spreading paper plates, water bottles and bags of Cheetos, Fritos and Doritos on cream-colored picnic tables.
A line of children corralling water balloons watched Musa, waiting for a signal they could begin. He leaped three times.
“Let’s go,” he said.