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Syracuse police officers escorted an 8-year-old boy, with his arms pinned behind him, into a police car Sunday afternoon over a stolen bag of chips. The young boy, who’s Black, screamed and cried as outraged pedestrians argued with the cops, according to bystander video of the incident.
“What is y’all doing?” Syracuse resident Kenneth Jackson, who recorded the video, says to police. “He look like a baby to me.”
“If he stole some chips, I’ll pay for them!” Jackson continues, as the police put the boy in the back of the police car.
The four-minute video, which Jackson posted to Facebook on April 17, has reached more than 49,000 views on the platform and nearly 5 million on Twitter. Police now say they’re reviewing the officers’ body camera footage, hoping to provide an explanation of what exactly took place.
“The juvenile suspected of larceny was not placed in handcuffs,” a public information officer with the Syracuse Police Department wrote in an emailed statement. “He was placed in the rear of a patrol unit where he was directly brought home. Officers met with the child’s father and no charges were filed.”
Anthony Weah, the boy’s father, said he wished the officers had handled the situation differently, even if his son was in the wrong, according to Syracuse.com.
Jackson told VICE News that he was on his way to the store when he heard screaming, which sounded like calls for help. Walking over to the source, he noticed three police officers surrounding a boy on a bike. The officers then grabbed the boy and began walking him toward the police car parked nearby, Jackson said. That’s when he began to record.
In the video, the officer can be seen holding the sobbing boy by his arms, as onlookers ask why the cops are forcing the boy into the car.
“He’s a fucking little baby, man,” Jackson can be heard telling the cops.
“And you’re helping by yelling in the background?” one cop asks him.
“I’m helping by making sure you don’t kill his little ass,” Jackson says.
During another part of the video, another bystander can be heard telling the cops that there’s no reason for them to take the boy into custody over a bag of chips.
“We’re talking petty larceny,” the person tells one of the cops in the video. Both Jackson and that individual offered to walk the boy home instead of having the police put him in their car. The cops ignore the request.
Three minutes into the video, as police take the boy’s bike and place it into the police vehicle’s storage compartment, one cop asks Jackson if he’s willing to follow the boy every day and pay for everything he steals.
“I will! It’s a kid!” Jackson responds.
At least 10 pedestrians and residents living on the block stopped to watch as the situation unfolded, according to Jackson, some of whom can be seen in the cellphone video.
“I understand if the cops were frustrated because of these kids, we all get it,” he said. “But there are other ways to get them to understand that ‘Hey what you’re doing is wrong.’”
“It was Easter Sunday, and this kid is actually in the store stealing chips. Why not get to the bottom of it instead of criminalizing him,” Jackson continued. “Let's try to help this situation and fix the situation and not traumatize another Black kid.”
In some states, children as young as 7 can be arrested and charged with crimes. Reform advocates say that needs to change and that kids should be taught, not penalized. The financial burden of their incarceration also falls on parents, who sometimes can’t afford the added cost.
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said what the officers did was an example of alternative policing that focuses on problem-solving instead of something more punitive.
“What occurred demonstrates the continuing need for the city to provide support to our children and families and to invest in alternative response options to assist our officers,” Walsh said in a public statement Tuesday.