'You’re Acting Like A Child,' Rochester Police Tell Nine-Year-Old Girl Before Pepper-Spraying Her
This summer, police in Rochester, New York, smothered Daniel Prude, a man in the middle of a mental health crisis. Seven days later, he died after life support was removed, and the county medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by the restraints the cops put on him. After that, after an entire summer of protests about that, after the city established a mobile Person in Crisis team consisting of specially trained mental health professionals, so that police officers were not answering mental health calls they have no business answering, how do you think things are going? If your guess was "not great," congratulations, you win the centerpiece.
On Friday — while the mobile mental health crisis team was busy with way too many other calls — Rochester Police responded to a 911 call from a mother saying her daughter was threatening suicide. This led to the police chasing and berating the child, who was clearly in severe distress, handcuffing her, pushing her in the back of a police vehicle, threatening to pepper-spray her and then, eventually, pepper-spraying her.
In the body cam footage, released on Sunday, you at first hear a cop yelling at a little girl walking down the street to come back, yelling that he's cold and does not want walk all the way down the street for her. From the beginning they treat her like a criminal and not like a child in crisis. He asks her why she's so upset and she says, of her mom, "she stabbed my dad." The girl and her mother, who has since shown up, have an argument about whatever happened with her father, and the girl gets increasingly upset. The cam then goes dark for about two minutes and we just hear the girl screaming that she wants her father. When the visual comes back, there are six cop cars on the street, the girl has had her arms twisted behind her and been handcuffed, and she's being pushed into the back of the police car, while the main officer says, "I wanna take mom to jail too."
Too. They don't tell this little nine-year-old girl carrying a smiley face backpack and wearing flowered leggings that she is going to the hospital to get help, they handcuff her and tell her she is going to jail. And then can't believe the child is screaming, "I want my daddy." The girl just screams and screams and tries to tell them she has a bad arm and the handcuffs are hurting her, as they keep shoving her into the police car. The one female cop on the scene at first appears to sort of be handling things correctly, right up until she tells the child that if she doesn't stop screaming she's going to "get pepper spray in her eyeballs." And then they do, in fact, pepper-spray her.
At one point, during all of this, when the girl says, "I demand to see my father," a police officer responds, "I don't care what you demand." At another, one tells her to "stop acting like a child," to which she correctly responds, "I am a child."
At the end you hear the cops talking about how they don't even know what the girl's name is. This may seem like a small thing, but it's obviously the very first thing you do when someone is having an episode like that. In order to orient them, you ask them their name (or you ask the mother what the child's name is), you call them by their name, you calm them. They didn't. Absolutely nothing was done to make that child feel safe or to give her any reason to not continue freaking out. Instead of caring for her and trying to help her, they scared the crap out of her.
The girl was taken to Rochester General Hospital and released later that day.
The response from the community has been anger and horror and demands for justice (and for these cops to be fired). The response from Mayor Lovely Warren's office has been more of the same "Boy, we gotta do something" from this summer. The response from the police has been ... not good.
At a Sunday press conference, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said she was very concerned about how the young girl was handled by RPD and RPD interim Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said that her department was doing work to ensure this kind of incident doesn't happen in the future. Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing uniformed officers, asked for patience in this incident later Sunday.
Mazzeo, speaking to the press, had the gall to say it's "not a simple situation" and that there were "no clear violations of policy." Because apparently there's no official "Hey, don't pepper-spray a suicidal nine-year-old girl" policy in their official code. Probably because it comes under the category of common sense/decency.
There is absolutely no excuse for the way these cops behaved, and every single one of them needs to go. There was no excuse for them to pepper-spray a nine-year-old girl who posed no danger to them. There was no excuse to further traumatize an already traumatized child. If cops cannot handle a nine-year-old girl having a mental health crisis without pepper-spraying her, then they have absolutely no business being cops. They are bad at their jobs, and cops who are bad at their jobs are a danger to those who live in the city.
Judging by the body cam footage, the cops didn't want to bother handling it correctly because it was freaking cold out and they wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. But if you're going to be a cop in the blistery tundra of Rochester, New York, you can't be someone who falls apart and pepper-sprays a nine-year-old child over an inch of snow.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse