The police response to a high school fight was under scrutiny after a pair of teenage brothers were arrested for violence against officers in Kentucky on Wednesday. The fight in Louisville started among Jeffersontown High School students but ended with officers kicking and using a Taser on a student before aiming it at others. The entire episode was captured on video that has since gone viral on social media.
The aggressive nature of the arrests highlighted the most recent example of White law enforcement treating Black youth like adults.
While one of the brothers, a freshman and a sophomore, was accused of sucker-punching an officer, it could still be argued that using a Taser on an unarmed teenager was a bit much for a police officer who should have been trained to safely handle aggressive youth differently than men and women.
Jeffersontown Police Chief Ken Hatmaker defended his officers in part because the brothers were the size of adults, local news outlet WDRB reported. “These were not children,” Hatmaker said during a press conference following the arrests.
Hatmaker’s comment was consistent with other members’ of law enforcement, which was “likelier to use force against black children when officers ‘dehumanize’ blacks,” according to an American Psychological Association study published in 2014. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the study’s author Phillip Atiba Goff, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The study was released several months before a White police officer shot and killed unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in part because the officer said he feared for his life.
A few months after that, Cleveland police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was in a playground with a toy gun when it took an officer fewer than two seconds to jump out of a squad car and shoot the fatal bullet into a child. He, too, said he feared for his life.
And who could forget when a gun-wielding White police officer body-slammed a bikini clad Black teenager after a pool party went wrong in McKinney, Texas, in 2015? Chances are they felt scared, too.
But before all of that, unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by an adult White wannabe police officer-turned neighborhood watch volunteer, placing a national spotlight on how Black youth are viewed in America – a topic that has still not been resolved, as evidenced by Wednesday’s ugly episode in Louisville.