Originally published in the Autumn 2021 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 66, printed October 25. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. For other stories in this issue or to see the full PDF, see the Autumn 2021 post here. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
The headline on the Associated Press story was chilling: “Tiny wrists in cuffs: How police use force against children.”
The story, published Oct. 20, reported on the widespread use of force by police on teenagers and small children, some as young as six.
“They’ve been handcuffed, felled by stun guns, taken down and pinned to the ground by officers often far larger than they were,” the AP reported, adding that “Departments nationwide have few or no guardrails to prevent such incidents.”
The AP said it had analyzed data on some 3,000 instances of police use of force over the last 11 years against children under 16. The data was provided by Accountable Now, a project of The Leadership Conference Education Fund and included incidents from 25 police departments in 17 states.
Most children in the dataset were teenagers, but there also were dozens of cases of children ages 10 or younger.
Among the findings:
- Black children are just 15 percent of the U.S. child population, but in the study made up more than 50 percent of those who were forcibly handled.
- The most common kinds of force used were “takedowns, strikes and muscling, followed by firearms pointed at or used on children. Less often, children faced other tactics, like the use of pepper spray or police K-9s.”
- While some police departments specify how old a child must be to be handcuffed, there are no laws that specifically prohibit using force against children.
The AP story interviewed several experts in child behavior, suggesting that police needed to be taught that a child’s brain is not the same as an adult’s and can cause the child to act in ways that may seem threatening but are really motivated by fear.
Here’s another way to look at it: If a cop needs to be “taught” not to brutalize a six-year-old child, the handcuffs are going on the wrong person.
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