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Maybe cops shouldn’t pepper-spray kids?
That’s the conclusion of some New York State lawmakers who introduced new legislation this week to prohibit police from using pepper spray or tear gas while dealing with minors.
The bill comes days after video emerged of cops in Rochester telling a 9-year-old girl she was acting “like a child” and then pepper-spraying her in the face while she was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.
Body camera footage of the incident, which started with officers responding to a call about a family dispute, shows one officer chasing after her and later trying to break up an argument with her mother. Footage from another body camera shows an officer restraining the girl in the snow and slapping handcuffs on her as she screams for her father.
The new legislation was introduced by Democratic state Sens. Samra Brouk and Demond Meeks on February 1, just three days after Rochester police pepper-sprayed the young girl. If approved by both the state Assembly and Senate, the rule would go into effect immediately,
“Today, we can at least make sure that no child will ever again be treated like this,” Brouk said in a Zoom call about the newly proposed legislation. “This is our job, to act and protect and support our communities. That’s what we hope this one piece of legislation will do, to make sure we are not having this conversation again about someone else’s little girl or little boy.”
While local police unions defended the officers’ actions, the incident sparked outrage with pro-police reform activist groups who have taken to the streets to protest the officers’ conduct, as well as politicians, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
On Tuesday, one of the officers involved in the incident was suspended from their job, while another two were placed on administrative leave, according to Rochester ABC affiliate WHAM.
Rochester police have been under heavy scrutiny in recent months. Last September, former Police Chief La’Ron Singletary was fired by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren following the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was suffering from a mental health episode and died in police custody after officers placed a spit hood over his head. Seven officers were suspended as a result of the man’s death, and an investigation into the encounter is still going on.
The newly introduced bill is just a first step in addressing police reforms in New York.
For some, however, the new legislation doesn’t go far enough. The Community Justice Initiative, a Rochester-based community activist group, is proposing local lawmakers introduce a bill banning the use of handcuffs on minors as well, according to Spectrum News. They’re calling the proposal “Nailah’s Law,” for the 10-year-old girl who was handcuffed by police during a traffic stop last May.