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Friday, December 3, 2021

Boyd: When law enforcement traumatizes children

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We are failing our children.

Those were the words that came to mind after reading two articles in recent weeks detailing abuse of power and trust with regard to our children and the criminal justice system. We love to spout platitudes such as “children are our greatest asset,” and “children are our future” all the while treating children, specifically Black and brown children as well as poor children, like criminals almost at birth.

Children are a blind spot in the conversation about police abuse, brutality, mistreatment and misconduct. We need to rethink the way we treat children.

A ProPublica article exposed the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee, where children are actually arrested and jailed at the whims of the juvenile court judge, police officers and juvenile detention center director. Children are actually jailed for a crime that doesn’t exist. Police officers are arresting children as young as 8 at school. And they’re arresting the wrong children at that. There are outrageous consequences for children, but none for the adults who are responsible for the madness.

The judge of juvenile court, Donna Scott Davenport, elected in 2000, rules as if she’s omnipotent and omniscient. She has no qualms with locking up 8- and 9-year-olds regularly. She believes the behavior of youth and parents has gotten worse over the years. She even calls herself the “mother of the county,” believing herself to be a benevolent figure. Talk about an inflated sense of ego.

While the ProPublica article focused on one county in Tennessee, AP looked at how police force is used on children nationwide.

AP reporters examined about 3,000 incidents of police force used against children 16 and under from the past 11 years. The sampling was small — 25 police departments in 17 states — but it found Black children comprised 50% of youth handled forcibly by police. Black children make up 15% of the child population. That’s a pretty clear overrepresentation. No one is going to convince me that Black children are — to use a less than eloquent and grammatically incorrect phrase — more bad than other children.

Children are pinned using the officer’s body weight, Tased and had guns pointed at them. Right here in Indianapolis, 160 children were handcuffed. In an incident in San Fernando, California, the officers blamed the youth for escalating the situation. If not for video recorded by a brother of one of the victims, no one would know the truth. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Something is wrong here.

When there’s public outcry about an incident, time and again we hear the officer followed protocol or procedure or their training. That excuse is so tired. It is abundantly clear police officers aren’t receiving the training they need when it comes to dealing with children and procedures and protocols need to change.

That just-following-their-training answer is actually lazy and tired. Am I to believe that policies and procedures can’t be revisited for improvements? Am I to believe that training has never been updated? So the training from 1932 is still applicable? I sure hope not, but that may as well be the training followed because today’s training seems just as out of date.

Children are not adults in smaller bodies. It’s common knowledge today that our brains aren’t fully developed until we’re in our 20s. Children won’t react the way adults do. Heck, many adults react out of fear when interacting with the police, so why do we expect any different from children? I suspect most children, especially young children, will be confused and terrified. If you’ve ever dealt with a confused, terrified child, you know that child will shut down. Barking orders won’t make the situation better.

I know someone will counter with the argument that some of these teens are as big and strong as adults and sometimes force is needed. That argument doesn’t change anything. Better training is still needed.

It’s heartbreaking to think of how these children have been traumatized at the hands of adults — adults who are supposed to have their best interests in mind. Adults who are supposed to keep them safe. Folks are always talking about ways to improve this always tenuous relationship between police officers and the Black community. How does this help police-community relations?

In many of these instances, the parents sued the city and the police department and won. I’m waiting for the day taxpayers will get tired of these lawsuits for rogue police behavior and demand accountability.

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