By Ameer Hasan Loggins
From the body-cam of a police officer in Rochester, New York, I watched a sickening scene unfold. The officer was in pursuit of someone fleeing on foot through the snow. I could not make out who the person was. All I was able to see was them slowly, running as fast as they could, and getting nowhere. All I could hear was the sound of the police officer’s feet pounding through the snow-covered pavement.
The officer caught their target — a 9-year-old girl.
When I think about 9-year-old children running through the snow, I imagine them with joy. I imagine them dodging snowballs. I see them building snowmen with their friends and family. I think of them bundled up in puffy down coats, gloves, and beanie hats for protection from the winter winds and freezing cold.
I never imagined watching a 9-year-old girl, wearing a basic black zip-up hoodie, thin spandex tights, and running shoes, being chased, captured, and wrestled to the ground by the police. It was 10 degrees outside on January 29, 2021, in Rochester. It was 10 degrees, in the snow, when two adult male police officers’ man-handled this child. She begged, “Can I please get the snow off of me? It’s cold!” Snow covered her entire body and an adult male officer denied her request and sought to further put his unwanted hands on her to wipe off the snow. Snow covered her legs and her buttocks. Another adult male officer screams at the girl, “Get in the car!” He lets the child know that she is going to jail.
“Wait! I just want to see my dad! Please, for the last time!”
This was the cry of a 9-year-old, desperate for her father’s protection. This was the cry of a 9-year-old, pleading to see her dad, “for the last time.”
It was as if she felt like the police were going to kill her and only her father could prevent it from happening. The sad thing is, had the father been there to defend his child, he may have ended up like Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who was killed in March 2020 by Rochester Police officers who put a mesh hood over his face and pressed his head into the pavement for two minutes and fifteen seconds until he was no longer breathing.
The police put the 9-year-old in handcuffs. They physically forced her into the back of a police car, but the child refused to put her legs inside of the vehicle. She screamed for the men to stop. One of the officers then said something that put the whole painful and putrid scene into perspective. He scolded the 9-year-old girl by saying, “You are acting like a child.”
“I am a child,” the 9-year-old responded.
Those police officers saw that little girl and terrorized her with the same tactics as they would an adult. The presumption of childhood innocence was nowhere to be found.
“I don’t think she was looked at as a normal child,” said Elba Pope, the mother of the child. “Had they looked at her as if she was one of their children, they wouldn’t have pepper-sprayed her.”
She was not seen as a child. She was adultified.
Adultification can take two forms, according to Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. The first form of adultification involves a socialization process in which children are forced to function at a more mature developmental stage out of being placed in situations beyond their lived years. They have to grow-up fast out of necessity especially in low resource community environments.
The second form of adultification involves social or cultural stereotypes that are based on how adults perceive children, which is oftentimes centered on race.
I could not see the girl’s face. It was blurred in the footage. But I could see the brown skin on the child’s hands forced behind her back as silver handcuffs pressed into her wrist. I could not see the officer’s face, but I could see his white left-hand on the backseat, and his gloved right-hand pepper spraying in the 9-year-old Black girl’s direction. I could see a white woman officer warning the child that other officers were “losing their patience” with her and that they were going to pepper spray her, “in the eyeball.”
The police kept their word.
An article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that unreleased body-cam footage shows the 9-year-old Black girl struggling as pepper spray, mixed with tears, run down her face and into her mouth. The footage shows the child screaming, “It’s in my eyes! My eyes,” as the white male officer, that pepper-sprayed the little girl in the face slams the car door, making her cries inaudible.
Never for a second was this child treated like a child.
The adultification of Black children is normalized in the United States. As Dr. Monique Morris reminds us, our society, “regularly respond[s] to Black girls as if they are fully developed adults.” In 2014, Professor Philip Goff and colleagues published a study demonstrating that from the age of 10, Black boys are perceived as older and more likely to be guilty than their white peers, and that police violence and terror against them is seen as more justified.
In the case of the 9-year-old Black girl, she was racialized, adultified, and criminalized.
The Locust Club police union in Rochester defended the actions of the officers.
In a press conference, Mike Mazzeo, the president of the Rochester police union dismissively described the incident as police, “trying to get her into the car.” He declared that the officer who pepper-sprayed the 9-year-old “made a decision there that he thought was the best action to take.” He continued by saying that, “It resulted in no injury to her. Had they had to go and push further and use more force, there’s a good chance she could have been hurt worse. It’s very difficult to get someone into the back of a police car like that.”
The police chased this child down, threatened to take her to jail, handcuffed her, forced her into a car, and pepper-sprayed her in the face. And the president of the Rochester police union had the fucking nerve to say that the incident, “resulted in no injury to her,” and that, “There’s nothing that anyone can say they did that’s inappropriate.”
I watched that body cam footage. I counted 9 police officers and one 9-year-old Black girl. There were 9 adults armed with guns and one unarmed 9-year-old child.
Nine adults with guns. One 9-year-old child.
Everything about dehumanizing that child was “inappropriate.” That child was subjected to both physical and psychological police terrorism, and the police union president, with a straight face, said that the child walked away from that incident injury-free. That child was robbed of her innocence, and in its place — trauma. “We know kids are traumatized by witnessing arrests, witnessing accidents, witnessing someone bleeding out on the sidewalk, and seeing the police there,” said Colleen Cicchetti, director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital and clinical director of the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition.
The 9-year-old girl did not witness the police at the scene of a traumatic event — she was the victim at the center of one.
She deserved to be treated as an innocent child. She deserved to see her father. She deserved understanding. She deserved safety. She deserved warmth. She deserved protection. The humanity of a child was violently violated. If the ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children, what do you say about the police that forever ruined the world of that 9-year-old Black girl in Rochester, New York?