I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cops don’t need to be called to every emergency.
This goes especially for emergency calls that involve the mental health or general wellness of Black people. We’ve seen time and time again that when police officers are called to handle non-violent emergencies involving Black people, they tend to only make things worse—and by “worse,” I mean a Black person ends up dead or grossly mistreated.
In Rochester, New York, police were called to a domestic disturbance involving a Black family and a visibly distraught and panicked 9-year-old Black girl whose greatest offense appeared to be refusing to let police officers put her in the back of a patrol car. For this, she was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed. On Sunday, the Rochester Police Department released two extremely disturbing body camera videos showing what happened during the incident.
To be fair, in this instance police were called to an Avenue B home for “family trouble” involving a “possible stolen vehicle,” according to Democrat & Chronicle. I suppose you have to call the police when there’s a theft, however, nothing in the released videos indicates that a stolen vehicle had anything to do with anything—so let’s just focus on the “family trouble.”
It was a chaotic scene. The police started out well enough as one officer can be heard asking the girl, who had reportedly run away from the home, “What is going on? How can I help?” The girl can be heard telling the police that her custodial parent stabbed her father. The officers and child were confronted by that parent who argued with the child in an f-word-laced tirade that would make any responsible adult shake their head. She appeared to argue that she didn’t stab anyone and that it was she who was actually abused.
When officers move to detain the girl and put her in the back of a patrol car, she goes from being agitated to completely panicked and can be heard repeatedly screaming that she wants to see her father and, at one point, telling an officer that she won’t get into the car until she sees him. As officers struggled to get her into the car—seemingly not understanding why a 9-year-old Black child might go into meltdown mode after being handcuffed and while being put in a patrol car—it becomes more and more apparent that a social worker or mental health professional should have been sent instead of the nine cops that reportedly responded.
One cop can be heard telling the girl, “You’re acting like a child,” to which she responded saying what every Black person who watched the video had to be shouting at the top of their lungs: “I am a child!”
I’m not sure if white folks can truly imagine the frustration of a Black person listening to a cop tell a Black child that they’re “acting like a child” during a situation no child should be in. For a moment, I thought about how fortunate it was that she didn’t end up like Tamir Rice, then I thought about how low that bar is.
Anyway, later in the second video, a white female officer can be heard talking to the girl and saying, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” A minute later, another officer can be heard saying, “Just spray her at this point.” The female officer is then seen shaking the can of pepper spray as the child continues to scream. Eventually, the girl is pepper-sprayed.
“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,” Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said at a press conference Sunday, CNN reports. “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.”
It’s worth noting that Herriott-Sullivan became the interim police chief after the former police chief was fired behind another incident involving Rochester police officers in which Black man Daniel Prude died last March after cops pinned him to the ground and placed a hood over his head as he was going through what his family said was a mental health crisis.
According to CNN, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren fired that police chief because there was a “pervasive problem” in the police department.
In response to the handling of the 9-year-old, Warren said at a news conference that it’s “clear from the video that we need to do more in supporting our children and families.”
“I have a 10-year-old daughter,” She continued. “So she’s a child; she’s a baby. And I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see. It’s not. We have to understand compassion, empathy. When you have a child that is suffering in this way, and calling out for her dad, I saw my baby’s face in her face.” Warren said she has “directed the chief of police to conduct a complete and thorough investigation of the incident,” CNN reports.
Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said officers were told the girl was “suicidal” and that she had “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom.” He also said that the girl “thrashed around” and kicked an officer.
“It didn’t appear as if she was resisting the officers, she was trying not to be restrained to go to the hospital,” Anderson said, the Chronicle reports. “As the officers made numerous attempts to try to get her in the car, an officer sprayed the young child with OC spray to get her in the car.”
White children in distress don’t get treated like this—that’s all I have to say.