On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a disturbing report on approximately 3,000 instances of police use of force against children under the age of 16 over the past 11 years. Key findings from the report include:
- The most common types of force were takedowns, strikes and muscling, followed by firearms pointed at or used on children.
- Black children made up more than 50% of those who were handled forcibly, though they are only 15% of the U.S. child population.
- There are no laws that specifically prohibit police force against children. Some departments have policies that govern how old a child must be to be handcuffed, but very few mention age in their use-of-force policies. While some offer guidance on how to manage juveniles accused of crime or how to handle people in mental distress, the AP could find no policy that addresses these issues together.
“This report makes clear the extent to which police violence in the U.S. affects children, too, and the enormously disproportionate toll it takes on Black children and children of color,” said Nick Suplina, Managing Director of Law and Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “In order to protect our communities and families, we need to address these frightening individual instances, address the underlying systemic racism that leads to them, and finally pass police reforms at the state and federal level.”
“Seeing these types of reports only reinforces what Black kids have learned the hard way – that in some instances, police officers can be the source of the violence that disproportionately plagues our community,” said Makayla Jordan, a volunteer leader with Birmingham Students Demand Action. “The stories in this report are the types of incidents that keep me up at night, because no child should have to live in fear of those that are supposed to be protecting them, and they are very clear evidence that our leaders need to pass real reforms into law.”
A 2020 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that exposure to violence by police leads to decreases in Black and Latinx students’ academic success and psychological well being. Royal Smart, who was 8 years old when he was handcuffed and taken out of his family’s home by police on Chicago’s South Side during a failed search for illegal weapons, talked to the Associated Press about how this instance of police violence impacted him:
“Even now, in nightmares and in waking moments, he is tormented by visions of officers bursting through houses and tearing rooms apart, ordering people to lie down on the floor.
‘I can’t go to sleep,’ he said. ‘I keep thinking about the police coming.’”
Research suggests that implementing specific use-of-force policies can save lives. One 2016 study of 91 large police departments found adoption of use-of-force reform policies—exhaustion of other means prior to shooting, bans on chokeholds and strangleholds, use-of-force continuum, de-escalation, duty to intervene, restrictions on shootings at moving vehicles, and warning before shooting—was associated with fewer people killed by police.
Black people in the U.S. are shot and killed by police at nearly three times the rate of white people, and data from Mapping Police Violence shows that most people killed by police are killed with guns.