Chicago — Young activists are speaking out against the pepper spraying of a 9-year-old girl Friday by police in Rochester, New York, and called for the officers to be removed from the department. Some officers have been suspended until an internal investigation is completed.
A video released Sunday shows officers using the irritant on the girl while she was handcuffed in the back of a police car. The officers responded to a 911 call that the girl threatened to harm herself and her mother, according to NBC News.
The child is heard repeatedly calling for her father throughout the encounter. At one point, an officer says, “You’re acting like a child.” The girl frantically responds, “I am a child.”
“I was watching [the video], and I was like ‘What am I honestly watching?’ It was literally traumatizing, and I can’t even imagine how she felt and how she must be traumatized,” said Freedom March NYC lead organizer Nia White. “I was horrified. I was disgusted. I was terrified, and those are probably the most reasonable answers I have.”
Despite the recent launch of a “person in crisis” team — an alternative to mental health 911 calls — earlier this month in Rochester, police responded to “family trouble” call about the girl because “there were a number of events happening at once at this location, all of which required a police response,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news conference.
New York Attorney General Letitia James was appalled at the girl’s treatment while the head of the police union defended it.
"What happened in Rochester on Friday is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable. 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," James said in a statement.
Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, told the Democrat & Chronicle, "I'm not saying there are not better ways to do things," Mazzeo said during a press conference Sunday night. "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."
Demonstrators held a protest Monday afternoon and chanted “mental illness is not a crime.” They called for “better procedures and policies” within the police department to protect children.
White, a freshman at Hampton University, wants the officers terminated and calls for therapy for the girl to deal with the trauma “she will have to carry for the rest of her life.”
“I really want the support and the understanding that Black girls need the opportunity to be children. ... Whenever you see a Black child, remember they are actually children,” said the 18-year-old activist.
At least 30,000 children under 10 were arrested in the United States between 2013 and 2018, statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show, according to ABC News.