The police don’t need any help demonizing Black and brown children. Society and the state treat them as older than they are, dangerous, irredeemable, and disposable.
CW: policing, state violence, murder of Black and brown people, racism
On March 29, police chased 13-year-old Adam Toledo into an alley around 2:30 A.M. After a seconds-long interaction, they shot and killed him. On April 6—literal days after a family lost their child to police violence—Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune wrote a piece cautioning people against “turning slain 13-year-old Adam Toledo into a martyr.” Yes, just one week after Adam’s murder, the Chicago Tribune thought the best use of their platform was to ensure we all see how violent and scary seventh graders can be. How utterly disgusting and embarrassing. This article was already violent for Black and brown children upon its publication, but the fact that it has stayed up after the bodycam footage was released is unacceptable. Adam Toledo, a child with his hands up, was shot and killed by an adult police officer.
What makes this article even more distasteful is that people—especially police—don’t need any help demonizing Black and brown children. Society and the state already treat them as older than they are, dangerous, irredeemable, and disposable. We have a myriad of horrifying examples to point to. In 1955, two white men beat and killed Emmett Till for allegedly flirting with a white woman who later admitted to lying about this and saw no consequences for this lie. He was 14-years-old. When police killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, one of the officers identified him on his radio as a “Black male, maybe 20.” The fact that the “gun” he was holding was a toy was mentioned to the 911 dispatcher, as was the fact that he was likely a juvenile. In 2010, a police officer killed 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones as she was sleeping.
Adults actually view Black and brown children as less innocent than their white peers. A 2017 report from Georgetown University law school found that Black girls experience “adultification.” This translates to young Black girls being disciplined more often and more harshly than their white counterparts. The authors of this study wrote, “Adultification contributes to a false narrative that black youths’ transgressions are intentional and malicious, instead of the result of immature decision-making—a key characteristic of childhood.” This follows a 2014 study that had similar findings about Black boys. That study showed that Black boys are seen as responsible for their actions while white boys of the same age benefit from the assumption that children are innocent. The consequences of these perceptions can be deadly. So, no, we don’t need to be more callous toward and suspicious of children, we need to be more caring and trusting. This type of dehumanization of Black and brown children propels the school to prison pipeline and endangers the lives of kids who find themselves on the wrong side of a cop’s gun.
Training will not fix this. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act will not fix this. More money for police will not fix this. How many children have to be shot dead before people wake up and realize this institution is unreformable? How many parents have to hear the country debate the humanity of their slain children before we abolish the police? This violence will never end so long as there are cops. Our safety—and the safety of Black and brown children—is threatened by the police state, not maintained by it. Abolish the police.
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