Police who handcuffed and pepper sprayed a nine-year-old girl in the American city of Rochester were interrupted on Monday at the request of the mayor.
“What happened on Friday was simply awful and has rightly upset our entire community,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “Unfortunately, (New York) state law and union agreements prevent me from taking more immediate and serious action.”
Warren did not say how many officers were suspended. The suspension will last at least until the conclusion of an internal investigation by the Rochester police.
Films released on Sunday, which have aroused new outrage over the excessive committing of the country’s law enforcement, showed that at least seven officers were involved in the incident on Friday.
Deputy Chief of Police Andre Anderson said on Sunday that the girl – who has not been given the name – had suffered from a serious mental emergency and reportedly threatened to take her own life and her mother’s life.
Officials called to the scene on Friday eventually responded with handcuffs, before attempting to force her into a car and pepper spraying her when she resisted, showing video camera videos released by the city police.
Images of police violence against African Americans, including the assassination of George Floyd in May 2020, sparked a summer of protests across the United States against racial justice and police brutality last year.
The ethnicity of the young girl in the Rochester incident has not been revealed.
Rochester police on Saturday said they were “guilty” of using handcuffs and annoying the girl for their own safety.
‘I’m a child!’
Body comb videos initially show officials trying to help the girl. When her mother arrives, the couple argues and the officers – after failing to ease the situation – decide to transport the increasingly distressed child to hospital.
A fight ensues to get the child into a police vehicle, which ends with her being pepper sprayed.
The video shows the girl crying repeatedly for her father, while being physically restrained. At one point, an officer may be heard saying, “You are acting like a child” – to which she responds, “I am a child!”
Warren condemned the use of force against a young girl and promised an internal review of the city’s law enforcement practices.
“It is clear from the video that we need to do more to support our children and families,” she told a news conference on Sunday.
“I have a ten-year-old child, so she’s a child, she’s a baby,” she added.
“This video, as a mom, is not something you want to see. We need to understand compassion, empathy.”
The incident is the second time in a year that Rochester is under national scrutiny for police violence after the murder of Daniel Prude in March last year, who died after police covered and forced him face down on the road.
Prude, an African-American man who also went through a mental health crisis at the time of his detention, killed a grand jury investigation and sparked mass protests.
Rochester City Council members condemned the film and accused the police of excessive force in a situation where psychiatric staff should have been involved.
Local Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan also acknowledged that the police had acted too much.
“I do not intend to stand here and say that it is OK for a 9-year-old to need pepper spray,” she said on Sunday. “It is not.”
But the president of the local police union defended the officers’ actions, saying that “limited resources” had left them no choice but to use pepper spray on the child.
“This is not about lack of compassion or empathy,” Mike Mazzeo said on Sunday.
“We are dealing with a very difficult situation.”