Adultification Bias and Brutality Against Black Girls Must Stop
Rochester almost got through the entire first month of the new year without an incident of the Rochester Police Department (RPD) using excessive force on a citizen in mental distress.
This time the victim of that brutality is a 9-year-old Black girl who based on reports and statements from the RPD was having suicidal thoughts. The police initially responded to a 911 call to a home on Avenue B for “family trouble.” Upon arriving the officers were approached by the girl’s mother stating that she feared the child would harm herself or others. The girl then ran to nearby Harris Street where she was apprehended by police and the situation eventually escalated to the point where the police officer forced the child to the ground, handcuffed her, and using excessive force ended up spraying the child in the face with pepper-spray.
As per usual with these types of situations, statement after statement began to trickle in from the media from leaders mostly absolving the department of any wrongdoing, not apologizing, defending their policies and taking zero accountability for the inhumanity that they had demonstrated. In a useless press conference with the media (on Sunday January 31) Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo was his usual deer caught in the headlights self, making contradictory half-statements, centering the “plight” of the officers, barely extending any compassion to the little girl and how she was handled, and providing zero clarity on why force was used and even less clarity of what policy change would come from the incident. Instead he spent much of the time blaming and shaming the child victim and appearing to indicate that somehow she deserved this treatment because there had been a prior incident of crisis. Part of his rambling included that were were no clear violations of policy in the pepper spraying a 9-year old handcuffed girl. Let me feign shock and surprise at his statement.
In this case, like all the others that have become common here in Rochester and across the country, the victim is never centered. Here we have a case of clear mental distress; this time from a 9-year-old child being treated like a criminal and not a child in a mental health crisis. She was forced to the ground by an adult in bitter cold snow, and instead of the police calling the newly instated Person In Crisis team (since they clearly do not have the range to handle the situation) the officers revert to what they know best; excessive force, brutality, and violence.
It’s the insanity for me
Is the Rochester Police Department insane? Or do they just devalue the life of Black people so much that not even a Black 9-year-old undergoing a mental health crisis receives the empathy, humanity and compassion she deserves. It would just seem to me on the heels of everything that happened since last summer with the BLM protests, scrutiny and investigations into the handling of the murder of Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester Police Department that one would think that all officers would be more self aware as to how they interact with the community right now. Especially Black community members. Even if we are to believe initial statements from Mayor Lovely Warren that the police responding to this initial call was appropriate, why didn’t the officers use common sense upon arrival and when recognizing that a mental health crisis was underway, not call this newly instated Person In Crisis team? Is there no common sense?
Already no one had much faith in this new crisis team and then right at the end of the first month of this new year in a situation that based on the information provided to the community so far would literally be the type of situation best handled by this crisis team, the RPD fails to transfer its’ power and instead use the deeply entrenched tools that they always use on Black folks more than any other people; excessive force and violence. Then, to add further insult the community is bombarded with a myriad of excuses, victim shaming, victim blaming, gas-lighting, and zero accountability.
We have had enough
Every single time the police is caught being abusive and brutal, tactics that are deeply ingrained and part of its culture, the citizens are always asked to be patient. The Mayor and the Chief blithely dole out statements like:
“I’m very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department. It is clear from the video we need to do more in support of our children and families.”
The interim Police Chief Herriott-Sullivan:
“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. 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.”
When the victim is Black, we are told not to rush to judgement. We have to take our time and consider all the facts. Yet again these manipulative tactics are merely used as a way to deflect and deny. More often than not, nothing will happen. Even in this instance the officers in question remain on duty.
The fact remains that we have all the facts we need. Black girls are perceived as needing less nurturing, comfort, and protection. This is known as “adultification.” This bias begins early; Black girls are seen as older and less innocent than their white peers starting as young as age 5. Compared to white girls of the same age, Black girls are perceived as needing less nurturing, comfort, and protection. We don’t have to imagine that the outcome of this incident would have gone differently had this little girl been white. The data tells us all that we need to know. Time after time we see instances of white people being handled with care and compassion while in police custody even after they have gunned down members of a church as in the case of Dylan Roof in 2015 or driven to another state to enact white supremacist vigilance on protests against police brutality as in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse in 2020. In both of these instances the police handled these murderers with care, humanity and compassion. Yet Black citizens don’t receive this treatment not even when no crime has been committed.
The Rochester Police Department, or any police department for that matter, is not able to fairly and equitably police itself. The system and culture of policing in the United States is morally, ethically, and legally corrupt and will always “cover up” its own wrongdoing. Reform has never worked. These instances are not new. What is different is the use of body worn cameras and cell phone footage. Even with the over abundance of evidence they deflect, lie, and lie again. When will Black Lives Matter?
- It’s not a simple situation’: Locust Club reacts to pepper spraying of 9-year-old girl | Democrat and Chronicle
- Rochester reacts to 9-year-old girl pepper-sprayed by the police | Democrat and Chronicle
- City of Rochester launches 24/7 Person In Crisis team for mental health assistance | Rochester First
- Why won’t society let Black girls be children? | New York Times
- Little women: When Black girls are robbed of their childhood | ESME
- Black Girls Are Too Often Treated as Older Than They Are—and Suffer for It | Slate
- 17-Year-Old ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Fanatic Charged With Murder at Kenosha Protest | Daily Beast
- Cops bought Burger King for Dylan Roof following his arrest | ABC7
(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a virtual non-profit organization and antiracist education brand that promotes justice for all. The organization encourages individuals to broaden their horizons and learn more about multidisciplinary issues and topics that impact the world.
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