In January 2021, a nine-year-old girl in our community was handcuffed and pepper sprayed by police. As a community that cares for children and sees their fundamental humanity, we must ask how we got to this point, where children of color are viewed as a threat, restrained and assaulted by the authorities. We are committed to the wellness of children, and we must reflect and hold ourselves accountable.
Our Golisano Children’s Hospital community sees this incident through many lenses: health care providers, behavioral health specialists, caretakers and more, committed to the wellness and humanity of children. We see our children and the children we care for reflected in this child, humbled and horrified by the trauma that she experienced at the hands of those who pledge to serve and defend.
Once again parents of children of color must have tough conversations with their kids about how to conduct themselves around law enforcement. The adultification of Black children is an ongoing and unacceptable pattern by individuals, organizations, and public systems, contributing to harsher school punishments, as well as greater use of force and harsher penalties in the juvenile justice system.
Children are not small adults – not physically, mentally, or emotionally. A nine-year-old is just starting to think independently and learning to identify their emotions. As pediatric specialists, we expect a frightened and overwhelmed nine-year-old to struggle with communication, following directions, and even resort to lashing out physically. To demand that a child “stop acting like a child” is unreasonable, unachievable, and unsafe. When we expect adult behaviors from children, we derail healthy development and risk causing trauma.