The recent brutal arrest and pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old Black girl in Rochester, N.Y. caught on video is causing national outrage and major changes in policing.
Police body cam footage released by the Rochester Police Department this week is at the center of the controversy. The two videos show a police officer outside in the snow running after and detaining the 9-year-old girl responding to a domestic call. The child immediately yells in pain after the officer grabs her arm.
The officer then informs the girl that six other police cars are coming to chase her. A woman who appears to be the girl’s mother is off camera arguing with the child over an alleged violence domestic incident involving the girl’s father.
The girl then tries to run away and another officer comes on the scene. She then screams multiple times “I want my dad! I want my dad!” The officers struggle with the girl as she screams and she is handcuffed while she’s on the ground. As the girl continues to scream for her father, the officers take her to the patrol car before the picture goes pitch black.
When the picture reappears, several officers are now on the scene and the girl is in the patrol car. In another view, two officers are seen violently forcing the girl into the patrol car. One of the officers says to the 9-year-old, “You’re acting like a child!” and the girl replies, “I am a child!”
A female officer on the scene tries to force the girl to sit in the patrol car and threatens to pepper-spray the child if she doesn’t comply. The girl is then pepper-sprayed while she’s handcuffed and officers shut the car door.
The girl was taken to the hospital where she was treated and released.
WARNING: VIDEOS CONTAIN GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE
Videos of the incident have received 1 million views. Reports indicate that one of the officers involved has been suspended and two others were placed on administrative leave. Nine officers were reportedly on the scene during the incident. The identity of the officers hasn’t been released.
Police officials say the girl was pulling away and kicking officers and not following orders.
“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,” said RPD interim chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan. “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.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren did not respond at press time to the AmNews to a request for comment on the situation. During a press conference this week, Warren said more discipline for the officers was out of her hands.
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged all of our community,” Warren said. “Unfortunately, state law and union contracts prevent me from taking more immediate and serious action.”
In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James called the actions by the officers “deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable.” She added that pepper spray should never be used on a child.
“My office is looking into what transpired and how a child was ever subjected to such danger,” James said. “It’s clear that drastic reform is needed at the Rochester Police Department to ensure that mental health professionals and child advocates are actually responding to people in need and when minors are involved, and that this type of behavior never occurs again.”
In response to the incident, a reported 200 community members marched in downtown Rochester on Monday in protest. Demonstrators chanted, “RPD look what you did, you just maced a little kid.”
“Police respond to punishment,” Black Law Enforcement Alliance President Marq Claxton said during a recent interview. “Too often police fail to recognize or notice our humanity. You couldn’t do that to a person you care about. When you fail to recognize the humanity of Black people, that’s toxic policing. That was a little girl. Those officers took from her her humanity and when you do that you can do all kinds of things to people.”
This week, Assemblymember Demond Meeks announced legislation that would prohibit the use of chemical agents, including pepper spray and tear gas, by police officers against children under the age of 18. The legislation aims to protect children from the harmful effects of chemical agents by prohibiting their usage on minors.
“The events that took place last Friday evening shook me and our community to the core. The same officers who are charged to serve and protect us instead brutally attacked a child of our community,” Meeks said. “As a legislator we are called to do more than offer words, we are called to change the laws to ensure this does not happen again.”