On Friday Jan. 29, Rochester police responded to a call about a nine-year-old girl making threatening statements to harm herself and her mother. The nine-year old, in a mental health crisis, exclaimed many times that she wanted her father. In a mental health crisis, our fight or flight response tends to take control and we don’t think logically.
Our sympathetic nervous system is activated by a situation that is perceived as stressful or frightening. It is an automatic physiological reaction that releases adrenalin and cortisol. When one is in a mental health crisis, especially a child who does not understand their emotions, it is difficult to think rationally and react in a calm and safe manner, especially when a group of people show up.
Body-cam footage was released of Rochester police attempting to force her into a patrol car when she kicked at them. The officers told her she’s “acting like a child,” to which she responded, “I am a child.” Officers then pepper-sprayed the girl. The officers involved have since been suspended, following protests, until the internal investigation can be completed.
Monday night protestors gathered in the snow outside the Rochester police station chanting “Black lives matter” and “look what you did, you just maced a little kid,” according to NBC News and the Washington Post. Mental health professionals have commented on de-escalation techniques compared to how the officers handled the situation and what could have been better alternatives. Anger has struck out as many have learned the officers used unnecessary force on a nine-year old girl. These officers should have faced disciplinary action immediately after the event and should be removed from the field.
For a long time, officers have struggled to handle mental health crises, especially Black mental health crises. With so many instances of unnecessary force and even death, we, as a society, should see that continuing to allow police to respond to these crises is not what we should be doing.
In this case, the cities recently developed “person in crisis” response team should have responded to the situation. All cities would benefit from cutting some funding from the police and putting it towards developing “person in crisis” response teams. Mental health professionals would be more equipped to handle mental health crises considered that is their field. If I, a 23-year-old, can handle a crisis situation without using force or becoming aggressive toward others despite them being aggressive toward me, grown men and women trained in a field that is supposed to help others should be able to do the same. If a grown man feels threatened enough by a nine-year-old girl that their only option is to pepper spray an already hand cuffed child, perhaps they should rethink the field they are in. Police are supposed to protect and serve but it seems they spend more time harming others instead of de-escalating situations with techniques they should be taught before entering the field. With a crisis response team, we could limit the amount of unnecessary deaths and protect those who struggle with mental illness.