The police are accustomed to responding to a wide variety of situations, from crimes-in-progress to mental and physical health emergencies. They are ideally trained to handle such situations appropriately… or so many of us assume.
But while there are countless police officers that do an exemplary job in protecting & serving their communities, there are also those few that damage the credibility of their peers by using excessive, brute force.
We’ve seen video footage of victims of police brutality. We’ve heard the names. We’ve been outraged, and demand change.
And then another incident occurs. And another. And another. And while we’re grateful for the countless law enforcement officers that do their jobs well, it’s stories this like one that are both baffling and alarming.
A 9-year-old girl was handcuffed and peppered-sprayed by police officers that were responding to a call about “family trouble” at her home, and the public is understandably outraged by the use of excessive force on a CHILD.
The appalling incident occurred on January 29 in Rochester, NY, following a call from the home to the local police department. The report stated that her 9-year-old daughter was suicidal, and had threatened to kill both herself and her mother.
The call was placed after the mother & her boyfriend were allegedly involved in a domestic abuse situation. Although the exact details on the initial call are still murky, there was obviously some serious issues brewing in the home that day.
(As a mom, my heart immediately goes out to this poor child; I can’t imagine the internal struggles she must be dealing with at such a tender young age.)
After their arrival, the police observed the girl & her mother arguing, and then attempted to remove the girl from her home in order to transport her to a local hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
And while their end goal of bringing her to the hospital might have been appropriate given the dire nature of the situation, it’s how the police went about it that is extremely disturbing.
Body cam footage from an officer present at the incident reveals the girl refusing to get into the police vehicle until she saw her dad (as per her request), and thrashing about in desperate attempts to avoid being taken to the hospital.
At one point, the girl ended up kicking one of the officers. Although she was certainly physical, even the local police chief acknowledged that her behavior was likely due to fear rather than defiance.
According to Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson,
It didn’t appear as if she was resisting the officers, she was trying not to be restrained to go to the hospital.
Being physically restrained -even if warranted- must be frightening, especially for a child. And while the police might have needed to physically restrain the girl once their words had failed, the excessive force in this case was definitely NOT necessary.
Heartbreaking body cam footage shows the girl crying out frantically for her father as the police again attempt to maneuver her toward the vehicle. She is (understandably) screaming as the police push her head into the snow-covered ground, handcuffing her.
In a moment of disgusting irony, one of the officers rebukes the child’s behavior with these words:
“You’re acting like a child.”
Exactly. As she should be, because she’s NINE.YEARS.OLD.
The sad thing is? The little girl herself was the one to remind the officers of this overlooked point; her response to the officer says it all:
“I am a child!”
Not that it mattered to the responding officers, apparently, because:
After a few unsuccessful attempts to wrangle the girl into the police vehicle, an officer then sprayed the girl in the face with pepper spray.
Here’s a clip of the footage that features the girl being doused with pepper spray (Warning: Video may be disturbing to some viewers):
Now, granted, these officers were not her parents. But as any parent knows, there are plenty of ways to secure an unwilling child into a car, without needing pepper spray to do it.
Ever try to strap a kicking, tantruming toddler into a car seat? It’s not for the faint of heart (and speaking of heart, it’s a great cardio workout!) Yet it can be done without the use of chemical deterrents. Just saying.
So just to be clear: a 9-year-old girl was PEPPER-SPRAYED and HANDCUFFED.
The footage concludes with the girl finally seated in the back of a squad car, with at least six police cars stationed nearby.
Six police cars, pepper spray, & handcuffs for to handle a 9-year-old girl.
And keep in mind, these officers were responding because the girl is suicidal. While I’m no expert in psychology, I can’t help but think a dose of pepper spray won’t help in a mental health crisis situation.
While Rochester police department released the footage in their efforts to be “more transparent” with the public, it’s important to note members this same department were accused of a cover-up last year of the suffocation death of an African-American man, Daniel Prude, after placing him in a hood during arrest.
The department initially claimed that Prude died of a drug overdose; once Prude’s family brought a lawsuit against the department, it was revealed that officials had attempted to hide body cam footage of the incident.
While it’s all well & good that the department is trying to be more “transparent” in sharing footage, it seems that the conduct of its officers is far more of a concern.
At a press conference on Saturday, Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan stated that the treatment of the girl was not warranted:
I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It’s not.
I don’t see that as who we are as a department, and we’re going to do the work we have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.
Mayor Lovely Warren also condemned the police handling of the incident, stating that she had already spoken with the mother, and that a mental health team would be reaching out to the family to provide assistance if needed.
What child wouldn’t need mental health assistance after an experience like this??
As of this writing, three officers have been suspended pending further investigation, and New York State lawmakers have just introduced legislation banning the use of chemical irritants on minors.
(The fact that this even needs to BE a law rather than a given is disturbing, no??)
In addition, New York state General Attorney Leticia James also issued a statement declaring:
Such use of force and pepper spray should never be deployed against a child, period. My office is looking into what transpired and how a child was ever subjected to such danger.
We can only hope that the officers involved will reap the professional consequences of their brutish treatment of the young girl.
Police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve our communities. They perform countless acts of heroism, good will, & selfless devotion. Officers doing their jobs well should be commended.
But cases like these (as well as the even more tragic ones that result in loss of life) remind us that there is still work to be done in holding callous or abusive officers accountable for their actions, consistently.
There are many, many good officers in our country; we’re lucky to have them. But we should also expect that level of conduct from ALL officers who wear the uniform.