The Reed Report

Stop Pepper-Spraying Little Black Girls

This is a simple fix for the police and yet, here we are again

Keith Reed
Momentum
Published in
3 min readFeb 9, 2021

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Photo: LWA/Getty Images

There aren’t adequate words for those who use their privilege to harm children. Even in an era as divisive as the present, the part of our social contract that dictates almost universal disdain for abusers of children remains intact. I say almost, because exceptions are too often granted to those who wear badges, as we learned most acutely in the aftermath of 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s 2014 murder in a snowy Cleveland park.

We don’t know the name of the nine-year-old girl assaulted with pepper spray by Rochester, N.Y., cops last weekend. We may never know. As a journalist, I’m writing from the difficult position of not having many facts about the case. Rochester police haven’t identified the officers involved. We don’t know their disciplinary records or whether they’ve been serially accused of using excessive force or otherwise abusing the citizens they’re charged with protecting. All that makes this difficult to write; it’s bad form, even when writing an opinion column, to convey more heat of emotion than light of fact.

But I’ve been a father almost as long as I’ve been a journalist. I’ve been Black even longer. To deny that those things shade how I view this incident would be a different kind of malpractice. Like many Black journalists, I’ve worked in newsrooms where cops received an unearned benefit-of-doubt when faced with evidence of abuse and wrongdoing. I’ve listened to colleagues on police beats complain of editors who suspend their typical skepticism when it came to the badge. More personally, I’ve lived with the worry of my children on the receiving end of a mal-intended cop’s pepper spray, mace, or gun. I’ve thought about my response more times than I can count. Rochester’s mayor and police brass have placed the officers who assaulted the nine-year-old on desk duty. They’ve launched an investigation and expressed disappointment at their actions. As a father, that wouldn’t be enough to settle the matter. I’m not sure any remedy available to them would.

The girl’s mother appears to agree. Elba Pope said this week that she called 911 because she needed mental health services for her daughter. When cops arrived, she asked…

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Keith Reed
Momentum

Keith Reed is a writer, commentator & former ESPN the Magazine editor, whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Vibe, Essence, CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere.