Black Children Die Because Of Police Neglect and Policing At All Costs

Black children are often the victims of both police brutality and their "mistakes" within a broken system.

A young girl holds a sign as protesters demonstrate during a protest against racism and police brutality
Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

In December 2020, New York State Trooper Christopher Baldner allegedly rammed Tristan Goods' vehicle from behind at least twice, forcing the car off the road. 11-year-old Monica Goods, a passenger in her family's car and Goods' daughter, died in the vehicular crash. She is one of the younger children, in recent memory, to have died due to police actions.

In another separate incident, 15-year-old Brett Rosenau died in early July 2022, as a result of a middle-of-the-night SWAT raid, according to local news reports. During the raid, police officers threw pyrotechnics and flash-bang explosives into the Albuquerque, New Mexico home. The house subsequently caught fire, but police prevented firefighters from entering the home due to the SWAT raid in progress. Hours into the raid, Brett was found dead inside. Cause of death? Smoke inhalation.

When it comes to Black children and teens, far too many are dying after what should have been routine interactions with law enforcement and other officials, because of neglect and mistakes made by police. Where is the outrage?

When it comes to SWAT raids, according to a 2014 ACLU report, there are upwards of 45,000 no-knock militarized police raids in private homes and apartments every year; an estimated 124 raids per day or night.

"It's 3:00 a.m. Your children are screaming and your dog is lying dead in a pool of blood. Scorch marks and shattered glass cover the floor. You're being held at gunpoint by towering figures wearing black and holding AK-47s. This isn't a Hollywood movie set," says Kara Dansky, former Senior Counsel, ACLU Center for Justice in War Come Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. "Odds are this is a predawn SWAT raid targeting a family of color. Mission objective: search the home for a small amount of drugs."

In the midst of the chaos during the New Mexico SWAT raid that caused Brett Rosenau's death, Rosenau, himself, was never accused of committing any crime. It's possible that the police did not even know that a minor child was staying in the home.

According to the Washington Post, it's now standard procedure in many states for judges to approve no-knock e-warrants in minutes and paperwork often does not list residents' names or ages. According to the Washington Post report, in the rush to complete SWAT raids and the accompanying paperwork, there isn't much thought given to the safety of minor children or vulnerable youth, or others who might be living or present in the home.

But for some, these details are irrelevant.

Systemic Inequality

In another incident that took place in July 2022, it is still not clear if 18-year-old Raymond Chaluisant was doing a Tiktok Orbeez challenge by allegedly shooting gel bullets through a brightly-colored toy gun at passerby from a car in Bronx, New York. What happened next is not in dispute.

Dion Middleton—an off-duty New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) officer who was not in uniform—used his licensed handgun and shot Chalusiant in the face, killing him from a distance. According to media reports, Middleton, a DOCCS firearms safety instructor, says he feared for his life, but at the same time admitted he never saw if Chaluisant had a weapon or not. Following the shooting, Middleton left the scene and inexplicably never called 911. Middleton later claimed he did not call authorities because he didn't think the discharged single bullet had struck anyone. He was arrested some hours later.

When it comes to younger children, the issue of the adultification of Black children, a practice that, when used by police and law enforcement, means both treating Black children as being older than they actually are and treating minor children as being guilty when they have done nothing wrong, is distressingly common. This bias plays a direct part in Black children being arrested, detained, and neglected. According to the Georgetown Center for Poverty and Inequality report Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls' Childhood, Black girls are 2.7 times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system for minor issues.

When police stop Black and brown individuals more frequently, this leads to a cascading chain of events. These same individuals of color who have been stopped by police are likely to be detained and arrested, as well. Data further shows that police may be more likely to use force against, shoot, and kill the people of color they have stopped; this is much less likely to happen with white individuals. Black and brown individuals who end up in jail are more likely to be denied bail and to remain incarcerated. There is also bias in higher conviction rates, sentencing rates, and incarceration rates among individuals of color.

A young boy chants in a megaphone as families march for Black Lives asking for justice and police reform

Mistakes Without Consequence

The vast majority of police deaths involving children and teens do not result in criminal charges of law enforcement. According to legal and social justice advocates, qualified immunity is a precedent that prevents government employees like police officers and other government agency employees from being sued.

Since police departments typically do not pursue criminal charges against law enforcement personnel in police-involved fatality situations, sometimes the only recourse for families is to try to sue the police departments or other agencies who may have been present. But typically qualified immunity means that individual police or members of law enforcement are shielded from lawsuits when a child, teen, or adult is killed or injured. The city ends up footing the bill for settlements, and involved police are more likely to keep their jobs or, in some instances, apply or be transferred to other police department career opportunities.

Some advocates charge that biased, entrenched policies and systemic racism means that police departments will continue to sweep these deaths under the rug. It is thought that police departments and correctional officers' primary obligation is to uphold the law as they see fit—not to necessarily keep people safe. Others maintain law enforcement personnel have stressful jobs and have to make split-minute decisions, especially when they are fearful for their lives and/or when perpetrators have guns or weapons. But the facts don't always bear this out.

In fact, a significant percentage of Black teens and children are unarmed but still die at disproportionate levels, while under the supervision of law enforcement and corrections officers who do have weapons.

According to a JAMA Pediatrics 2022 research analysis of California Emergency Department Visits and Hospitalizations, from 2005-2017, Black boys, ages 15-19 were the most likely to be hospitalized following encounters with police and law enforcement. The study also found that Black boys and girls ages 10-14 are injured at 5.3 and 6.7 times, respectively, as compared with the rate for white boys and girls, the study says.

So what can be done? It's time for everyone to understand that systematic racism is behind these tragedies. Police need specialized training on how to interact with teens and children, including mentally ill and special needs youth. Programs like the Center for Innovations in Community Safety, in partnership with the global law firm Sheppard Mullin, have created the ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) Project. The ABLE Project is one police training program that works on police-to-police peer interventions that are aimed at police to avoid police misconduct, promote police health and wellness, and to avoid on-the-job "mistakes."

How To Respond During An Encounter With Police

"My advice for Black children and teens is to always be respectful when speaking to police, but [at the same time] never give a statement to the police without a lawyer present. Do not run from the police. Always, give your real name, never give a fake name," says Robyn McCoy, a Michigan-based criminal and family law attorney, who regularly gives "What to Do When Stopped by the Police" training workshops.

"Obviously, every situation may be different, but if you are walking outside and the police come and say, can I talk to you? Respectfully say, "Officer, am I under arrest? If they say no, ask them, 'Am I free to leave? If they answer both questions in the affirmative, then leave the area and do not hang around. Zip it. Do not continue to answer questions," McCoy says.

McCoy says during situations at home, if police suddenly knock on your door and ask to enter your residence, children and teens should immediately call their parents. If possible, speak with the police through an open window or through the closed door with the parents listening and communicating via video chat or speaker phone. Do not let police into your home without a warrant, McCoy says. Obviously, if you have called the police for a medical emergency or crisis situation, that's a different scenario, McCoy advised.

McCoy noted that while every situation and police interaction may be different, there are often far too many situations when Black teens, including those who have mental health needs or special needs, have tragically ended up dead.

Each and every tragedy is heartbreaking, says McCoy. The ultimate goal is for these tragedies to stop occurring.

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