You Can't Reform a System That Treats Black Children Like This

You Can't Reform a System That Treats Black Children Like This
Screenshot:Rochester Police Dept.

An investigation is underway after police in Rochester, New York pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old Black girl.

Deputy Chief Andre Anderson told reporters that the police were called Friday after receiving a report that the girl threatened to harm herself and her mother. According to NBC News, Anderson said that when law enforcement tried to move the girl to the police cruiser to take her to the hospital, she resisted and kicked one of the officers.

It’s easy to understand why: the police bodycam footage released Sunday showed officers threatening to pepper spray the handcuffed girl while she called out for her father.

“I want my dad!” the girl cried.

“This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray is going in your face,” an officer replies as she tried to wrestle the girl into the car. The same officer assures the girl that she will get her father, but the girl recoils and continues to cry, reminding the officer that just moments ago she threatened to pepper spray her.

The cop made good on the threat.

“Just spray her at this point,” says another officer, exasperated. As the girl screams anew, he slams the door shut and is heard muttering, “Unbelievable.”

This wasn’t the only galling moment of the girl’s police encounter. At one point, a cop reprimands the girl, saying, “You’re acting like a child.”

“I am a child,” the girl replied.

But Black children aren’t granted the courtesy of childhood, or age-appropriate punishment for that matter. As Monique W. Morris noted in her 2012 report “Race, Gender, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls”: “Black girls are subject to a comparable racial profiling that occurs with adults, one that can alter their futures as a result of unconscious biases that inform decision-maker ideas about culpability and punishment.”

A quick Google search pulls up numerous news stories of Black girls who were handcuffed for classroom tantrums and body-slammed by officers across the United States. And even with reforms put in place in schools and police precincts across the nation—the implementation of body cams especially—cops still see fit to manhandle young Black girls like they’re wild animals, threatening them and growing impatient when those threats aren’t met with calm.

In a statement Saturday, Rochester police said that their actions were necessary “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene” while they waited for an ambulance to take her to a local hopsital.

Berating a young girl, handcuffing her, and pepper spraying her in the face doesn’t sound like the most beneficial way to keep a child calm and controlled. But more damning is this: USA Today reports that just last week, Rochester launched a “Person in Crisis Team” to handle cases like this one, making it so that Rochester cops don’t become embroiled in matters they’re obviously not equipped to handle. It’s unclear why this team wasn’t utilized in this instance, especially considering that this incident comes less than a year after Daniel Prude, a Black man suffering from serious mental illness, died after being violently restrained by Rochester police officers.

While local activists are infuriated by this latest case of police incompetence, cops are making excuses. Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, a union that represents uniformed officers, said the following during a Sunday night news conference: “I’m not saying there are not better ways to do things, but let’s be realistic about what we’re facing. […] It’s not TV, it’s not Hollywood. We don’t have a simple [situation], where we can put out our hands and have somebody be instantly handcuffed and comply. It’s not a simple situation.”

I suggest Mazzeo empathize with what Black children are facing instead: Threats of violence from grown-ups with guns.

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