A Florida police department is defending its officers after a viral video showed an officer punching a 14-year-old black girl as she was pinned to the ground, calling attention to the ways police can violently interact with young black women.
The incident occurred last Thursday as officers with the Coral Springs Police Department responded to reports of a large group of teens creating a disturbance at the Coral Square Mall. The teens were removed and banned from the mall by police after mall security received complaints, but a smaller group of the same kids returned soon after. The officers had already arrested one of the teens and were arresting the unnamed girl when the video was recorded.
In a video posted to Instagram, the girl is shown lying on the ground as two officers, one female and one male, both kneel on top of her. As the female officer attempts to pull the girl’s arm out from under her body, the male officer strikes the girl in her side as he holds her shorts.
”Why you hitting her?” an off-camera voice yells. “She can’t do that, her hands underneath her, the f*** you hitting her for?”
The girl was taken to a local juvenile assessment center and faces three charges, according to 7News Miami.
As video of the incident attracted criticism in the local community, police issued a statement Friday defending the officer, arguing that the girl was “resisting arrest,” that the strikes were merely to gain “compliance,” and that the officer did not use excessive force. “Due to her stature and aggressive behavior, officers took her to the ground attempting to get her to release her fists,” the department said. “As seen in the video she resisted arrest, and in order to have her to comply she was struck in the side to release her clenched fists — she was then handcuffed.”
The department said criticism of the officer’s actions was unfair, saying that the video did not include information about what transpired before or after the girl was struck by the officer, claiming that prior to her arrest, the girl pushed another teen, was seen “cursing [and] attempting to incite the other teens,” and that she “violently kicked” an officer as she was being placed in a patrol car. “The Coral Springs Police Department believes in transparency,” the statement continued. ”It is important for people to have all of the facts before rushing to judgment of an officer’s actions when faced with calls for service involving violent suspects — regardless of their age or gender.”
Jessica Dennis, the girl’s mother, says that the video is indefensible. “Her hands are pinned up, he’s fishtailing her whole body with her shorts. It was just too much going on and she clearly wasn’t aggressive,” she said at a recent press conference, according to CBS Miami. The girl and her family are considering filing a complaint against the police department.
Footage of the girl’s arrest calls renewed attention to racial disparities in police use of force, and in this case, particularly how black women and girls are often overlooked in instances of police violence.
Black women and girls are often left out in discussions of police violence
Unarmed black men are typically the focus of media coverage about police shootings and excessive force, but there have been several examples over the years of how these issues affect black women.
Take, for example, Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody after being arrested during a traffic stop in 2015. Bland’s death was one of several that fueled the spread of efforts like #SayHerName, which aims to call attention to the ways that black women are uniquely affected by police violence and brutality, noting that black women are not only affected by shootings and excessive force, but also deal with things like sexual assault at the hands of police officers.
“Black women are all too often unseen in the national conversation about racial profiling, police brutality, and lethal force,” researcher Andrea Ritchie, a co-author of a 2015 report on #SayHerName published by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, noted in a 2015 brief on the topic. The report shows that black women face significant racial disparities in police stops and sexual violence, and it documented close to 70 cases of black women killed or injured by police, many of them in the 2012 to 2015 period.
In another example, months before Bland’s death, Natasha McKenna died at a jail in Fairfax County, Virginia, after the woman, already in restraints, was tasered multiple times by local deputies. Earlier this year, Chikesia Clemons was thrown to the ground and her top was pulled down while police officers arrested her. Cops had been called after Clemons disputed a utensil charge at a Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama.
Black girls have also been exposed to police violence in several high-profile incidents. In 2015, a video showed 15-year-old Dajerria Becton crying and calling for her mother after she was pulled by her hair and pinned to the ground by a police officer responding to complaints about a pool party in McKinney, Texas. That same year, a video showed a black girl being thrown from her desk by a school resource officer in South Carolina. In August, 11-year-old Donesha Gowdy was tasered by a Cincinnati police officer for shoplifting items in a grocery store.
Research has shown that part of the problem lies in perceptions of black girls. A Georgetown study released in 2017, for example, found that black girls as young as 5 are already perceived as more adult-like and less innocent than white girls of the same age. A 2012 report from the African American Policy Forum finds that black girls are often punished more severely in school because they are seen as more aggressive and less feminine than their white peers.
These perceptions of black girls have created a system in which black girls are disproportionately punished for everything from disobeying authority figures to the clothes they wear in school. And when black girls interact with police, it is likely that these perceptions lead officers to react with more force. When the Coral Springs Police Department defended its reaction to the 14-year-old, it argued that it was simply acting to restrain a “violent suspect” who defied them. But for those worried about police violence against black women and girls, this defense shows just how little they understand the problem.