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Unwavering Police Brutality Against Women

Photo by: Chicago Tribune

Whether it is a mental health crisis or a seemingly ordinary interaction with the police, black women face the wrath of police brutality.

The dehumanization of black bodies (especially black women) by police has continued over the years, and a recent incident of unnecessary police violence against a young black woman in January, 2021 involved a 9-year-old who was pepper-sprayed by police for not cooperating while getting into the back of a squad car. The fact that a total of nine officers responded to the family disturbance call seems a bit excessive to begin with, but it is baffling that nine officers could not calmly de-escalate the situation without the use of pepper spray. The body-camera footage reveals the young girl calling for her dad in an attempt to calm down before officers spray her. This cry for help should have alerted the Rochester police to take more humane measures to get the young girl to comply before immediately resorting to more aggressive measures. I am not fully trained on the proper police protocol for responding to a potential mental health crisis, but this incident exemplifies the lack of restraint of the police officers to not assert their dominance and use excessive violence. While the police officers involved were suspended pending an internal investigation, it is unlikely that further disciplinary measures will be taken.

The unnecessary escalation by the police with a young black girl was not justified in the Rochester case. Neither was it justified in a 1935 case in which a police officer pushed twenty-year old Vivian Darden multiple times in an attempt to quickly move her off the street before she finally made a verbal attempt to stick up for herself. In response, the officer forced her to hands behind her back to arrest her.

In both cases, no crimes were committed by the young women, yet the police involved intensified the situation for no legitimate reason. Where the cases differ, though, are what they reveal about discriminatory policing. The Darden case exemplifies how the stereotype that black women are ‘aggressive’ is used as an excuse to resort to more violent means of police control. Negative character traits were glued to black woman as inferior traits that went against the late 1800 ideology of a ‘true womanhood’. The expectation was that a woman should be passive and obedient and if she does not, she is not a true woman and is more likely to resort to criminal actions. The belief was that because of this inferiority, ‘aggressive’ black women typically fall under the criminal status and should therefore be treated like a criminal. In the Darden case, the police officer’s response exemplifies the common embrace of this attack on black women’s moral character and reveals the police officer’s implicit bias as an explanation as to why he was more compelled to use violence.

The Rochester case calls into question the social attitudes towards black women as weak-minded or insane and that because of their inferior mental health status, they are more prone to acts of crime. Rochester police could have already had a fear of the black, and potentially suicidal, girl becoming violent towards them, thus the nine officers resorted to pepper spraying her as a precautionary measure in an attempt to prevent her from becoming violent. This predetermined notion runs deep in societal views of black females as a mentally inferior group as well as a legitimate justification for police to use excessive force in inappropriate situations. The truth of the matter is that white children have more access to mental health services and treatment options than black children, yet there still lies a fixed belief that if a black child is deemed ‘insane’ or mentally unstable, more extreme precautions should be taken by the police. Would a young, white girl suffering from a mental health crisis have been handcuffed, stuffed into the back of a squad car, and pepper sprayed? It is doubtful that the same actions would’ve taken place, but these stereotypes continue to be culturized and embedded in the foundations of criminology.

The Rochester incident is a painful reminder to young black women that demoralization by the police should not and will not be tolerated in any situation, especially in a mental health crisis. Still, it is a reminder that discriminatory policing persists and is not just limited to black men.

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