The headline above is why it is imperative that we support and affirm Black Lives Matter. It’s why Colin Kaepernick kneels. It is why African Americans have a “complicated” relationship with law enforcement.
For some of us, contact with the police is as ubiquitous as it is existential. And sadly, the random killing or trauma brought to bear on black children and the helplessness we as adults bear in the face of it is an unending fear.
The City of Chicago recently settled a multimillion-dollar suit with the family of Davianna Simmons because the Chicago Police Department pointed a loaded gun at the then three-year-old—coincidentally, the same minimum age as immigrant children who are now being asked to defend themselves in court—during a raid on her grandparents’ home on Aug. 29, 2013.
According to court documents, the toddler had a loaded gun pointed inches from her chest, despite pleas from her handcuffed mother, Aretha Simmons, and grandmother, Emily Simmons, to turn the weapon away from the child.
The Daily Mail, which claims to have seen firsthand court documents of the incident, reports:
When Davianna’s grandmother cried out for the police officer to take their gun off the child, the family alleges she was told to ‘shut up’, and the gun was not moved. Despite further pleas through screams and sobs, the family say the gun was not moved and that the child suffered a severe form of PTSD afterwards.
The child, who was previously outgoing and ‘happy-go-lucky’, began to suffer crippling nightmares after the event. Testimony filed on behalf of her family claimed Davianna “springs up in the middle of the night and looks around, crying and screaming, ‘the police are coming, the police are here!’ or ‘they’re here.’”
According to the complaint, police ransacked the house looking for Aretha Simmons’ alleged boyfriend, Alonzo McFadden, who did not live in the home (but was later arrested outside of the home the same day). After trashing the home, they found no illegal drugs or weapons.
The family alleged police “destroyed the front and back doors to gain entry” to the Simmons home and that they “broke tables, chairs, dressers, a headboard and boxspring mattress, candleholders, and a flat-screen TV, the November 2014 complaint continued.
Davianna’s mother sustained an eye injury in the subsequent arrest and said she did not resist. She was later cleared of all charges.
Davianna was later diagnosed by pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Niranjan Karnik with “one of the worst cases of child post-traumatic stress disorder” he had ever seen, reports the Mail.
Al Hofeld, Jr, who represented the Simmons family, says Davianna, now eight, is still traumatized; with this settlement, she becomes one of very few to be compensated for her anguish among the tens of thousands of mostly black and brown children who witness and experience police brutality.
“Between 2012 and 2015, roughly 1 out of 10 lawsuits [Chicago] settled involved someone younger than 18,” says Hofeld. “This has got to stop. And I will continue to file these cases on behalf of young children of color until CPD makes it a priority to protect them. Right now, it is not even on CPD’s radar.”
The Chicago Defender reports that the Simmons case was the first in which the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) blistering report on the Chicago Police Department’s abuses of power and lack of training was admitted into evidence at trial.
The Defender reports that during pre-trial hearings, “Hofeld caught Chicago police officers lying and City of Chicago attorneys withholding evidence they had been ordered to produce, spurring outrage from the bench. Hon. Matthew F. Kennelly in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois threatened to hold post-trial hearings on the City’s conduct and drag city officials in to testify.”
The settlement from the city of Chicago was proffered on Feb. 20, 2018; hours before the case was set to go to trial. Just weeks earlier, thousands of pages of documents were surrendered by the city, which led to further allegations some officers involved in the case had committed perjury.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Simmons settlement is not even the smallest paid recently by “beleaguered Chicago taxpayers.” That distinction tragically belongs to a man who served 20 years in prison after a CPD officer lied about his being involved in a brutal sexual assault.
Just this month, CPD once again made national news when they handcuffed and traumatized an innocent 10-year-old on his grandmother’s lawn.
What is both striking and terrifying is how all this harkens back to a dark time in our history—during slavery and even Jim Crow—when officers or “night riders” rendered us powerless to protect the children we birthed, those we fashioned in the likeness of God. Then, as now, they were ripped away, torn away, killed away—especially by those who claim to have the law on their side. As Maya Angelou once presciently said, “history does not dissolve in the blood.”
And so it continues; but when presented with evidence, some people still lack the empathy to see black or brown children as children. If they did, they would surely be kneeling too. Perhaps privilege is a powerful drug (as insidious as sugar). Perhaps it’s in our very DNA.