Clarence Page | Badly trained police and need for more help in the community pillars

Rochester again?

The police’s videotaped pepper spray of a screaming, handcuffed 9-year-old black girl last week has gone viral and is painful to see.

It is even more painful to recall another video released last fall of a mentally ill black man who died naked on the street after police in Rochester, New York pulled a hood over his head would have.

Our outrage following these two scandalous tragedies is further inflamed by frustration. Both incidents should remind us that in the tension between the need for law enforcement and police accountability, there are no easy solutions. But there are solutions.

After the video of the death of Daniel Prude, who was visiting from Chicago, sparked protests and a national riot, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren sacked the police chief. The city has also created a new team of counselors and social workers “Person in Crisis” to answer emergency calls for people “experiencing emotional or behavioral disorders”.

However, the program is fraught with possible misunderstandings. A caller must call 911 to request mental health services for themselves or 211, the area’s crisis hotline, to seek help for someone else.

Unfortunately, as a city spokesman told reporters, the call on Friday for the little girl came as a “domestic” or “family” crime report, not a mental health call directed to crisis team advisors.

As a result, the local police were called. As illustrated in widespread footage on YouTube, chaos ensued. The girl, who has not been identified, is screaming to be released when police hold her in a patrol car. When an officer tells her that she is “acting like a child,” she replies, “I’m a child.” Moments later, the video shows a police officer spraying the girl with pepper spray and making her cry in the back seat.

Mayor Warren announced Monday that officials involved in the spraying would be suspended pending an internal investigation. But, as in Prude’s case, the officers seemed ill-prepared for what happened to them.

That is a major reason why, as I have already written, cases like this require something other than the conventional police response. A surprising number of non-emergency calls have less to do with law enforcement than other social failures.

Much of the political debate over the past year has been embroiled in a call to “defuse the police,” a misleading slogan that many reformers re-designed into the more helpful “rethinking of the police”.

Re-thinking about the police force encourages innovations like Rochester’s Person in Crisis teams, social worker crisis intervention services, and other counselors that Chicago and a growing number of other cities provide.

But we also need civil participation at the neighborhood level. Cities plagued by high crime rates in recent years have similar problems with citizens’ widespread distrust of the police – and vice versa.

Just hours before the Rochester incident broke out, some mothers who had lost children to murder announced a new national movement called Voices of Black Mothers United to raise awareness and organize grassroots effort at the neighborhood level.

“We’re not saying ‘Defund the Police’ because we want more police in our community,” said managing director Sylvia Bennett-Stone in an online press conference on Friday. She lost her daughter to a stray ball in 2004. “But we also want them to be accountable.”

This requires constructive support from citizens whose service and protection the police have vowed, said Robert Woodson of the Woodson Foundation, which the group convened as part of its 40 years of work with grassroots organizations. “We believe the solutions are in the same zip codes as the problem,” said Woodson.

I wish you good luck.

Other mothers have organized against violence and have had some successes and, in some sad cases, tragedies.

Two Chicago mothers, Chantell Grant and Andrea Stoudemire, attended daily vigils organized by Mothers Against Senseless Killings in 2015 until the two were fatally, senselessly, and cowardly shot at a troubled intersection in the city’s Englewood neighborhood.

And the wave of violence in the city – the murders in Chicago reached 51 in January, the highest in the winter month of the past four years – continues. This also applies to the need for better nationwide cooperation between the police and the communities in which they patrol.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

Comments are closed.