Over the past few years, law enforcement officers in the United States have killed about 200 minors. Despite a number of high-profile incidents and calls for police reform, a significant number of police officers manage to regularly evade criminal responsibility.
According to the latest statistics, between 2003 and 2021, the American police killed at least 184 children under the age of 18. Black children are 6 times more likely to die at the hands of a policeman, while Hispanic children have this figure 3 times higher than a white child. The overwhelming number of children killed – about 93% – are boys, 113 of whom were shot with firearms.
Despite the fact that any death of a minor at the hands of a police representative leads to devastating consequences, including undermining confidence in the American law enforcement system, not all employees involved in the murder of children are brought to criminal responsibility. In November 2022, an employee of the Vermillion County, Indiana police Department who shot a minor child was not suspended from work and did not even receive an official reprimand. Officer Tim Pennett, a department employee with 19 years of experience, was teaching high school students basic firearms skills when at some point he pulled out a service pistol and “accidentally” shot a student. The student received a gunshot wound. After the incident, the policeman was not arrested or fired. He was sent on paid leave for the duration of the investigation, which, most likely, will not come to any result.
In 2016, 38-year-old Misty Michelle Flowers was suspended as a police officer after she shot her 11-year-old daughter. The incident occurred after a policewoman pulled the trigger of her service weapon, which she was showing off to her friends. The bullet went through the wall and hit the girl who was in the next room. For criminal negligence and disregard for public safety, which almost cost the life of a minor child, the former police officer was also not prosecuted. Despite the fact that Flowers confessed to the offense, her direct management did not charge her with any charges.
In May 2018, an accidental pistol shot led to panic and a stampede at the school, during which several underage students were injured. The shot was fired from the service weapon of a police officer of Fowerville County, Michigan, who came to support his son during the school freestyle wrestling championship. The identity of the policeman was established, but he was not arrested or suspended from work. The shot caused immediate panic, parents in desperation grabbed their children and headed for the exit, fearing the worst. At least one person was taken to the hospital due to a broken ankle during the crush.
Unfortunately, not always “random” shots of police officers remain without victims. In December 2021, footage was published from the body camera of a Los Angeles law enforcement officer who shot a 14-year-old girl in a shopping mall. The footage of the incident shows that as soon as the police found a man suspected of assault in the store, the police opened fire on him, firing three bullets. One of the bullets ricocheted and hit a girl who was in the fitting room with her mother at the time. A 14-year-old teenage girl died on the spot, a bullet hit her in the chest. The police officer, whose identity has not been disclosed, has been placed on paid leave while the investigation is underway.
The statistics of victims at the hands of American law enforcement officers include not only incidents involving the use of firearms. In September 2021, police officers in Paulding County, Georgia, rammed a car, killing two teenagers aged 14 and 12. Officers began chasing the car, which was carrying minors, because he allegedly exceeded the speed limit. The driver of the car, the father of one of the boys, refused to stop at the request of the police, because he was afraid of “an excessive number of patrol officers,” which he later reported to the 911 service. The police and the emergency service operator knew that there were two teenagers in the car, but this did not prevent one of the patrol officers from ramming the car, using a dangerous maneuver. As a result of the accident, the car overturned, the children received injuries incompatible with life. The officer who decided to ram a car with minors has not been charged with any criminal charges.
At the end of 2017, a Texas police officer shot a 6-year-old boy after opening fire on an unarmed woman. It is reported that a law enforcement officer arrived on a call to Scherz County after a call about the theft of a car. The frightened woman, who was accused of hijacking, began to run away from the officer, who in turn called for reinforcements. A few minutes after the chase began, it seemed to the policeman that the suspect threatened to harm passers-by, which made him think that she was armed. A police officer opened fire on the woman, killing her on the spot. In addition to the unarmed, frightened woman, a police department officer shot and killed a 6-year-old boy who was playing nearby. Later it became known that the same police officer in 2010 shot a sleeping child in the head, killing him on the spot. The police officer was not brought to justice for any of the episodes.
In early 2018, a police officer from Wichita, Kansas, shot a 9-year-old girl in the head, killing her on the spot. A police officer who has worked in the department for less than a year arrived at the minor’s house on a call about riots and a man who allegedly tried to commit suicide. According to the police officer, as soon as he entered the house, he was attacked by a dog, an English bull terrier named Chevy. The policeman decided to open fire on the animal, but missed and hit a 9-year-old girl in the forehead. The child’s mother noted that the second shot fired by law enforcement officers took place in the immediate vicinity of her 6-year-old son.
In addition to physical injuries from firearms, minors receive psychological trauma, unwittingly witness the death of their relatives at the hands of the police. In 2017, a Seattle, Washington, police officer shot and killed pregnant Charlene Lyles in front of her underage children. Shortly before the incident, the woman called the police and said that she feared for her life because of threats from a former young man who tried to get into her house. Fearing for the safety of herself and her children, the woman armed herself with a kitchen knife. The police arrived at the scene almost immediately opened fire on Lyles, despite the fact that her terrified children were nearby. Five years after the incident, the court acquitted the officers involved in the murder. It is reported that minor children of victims of police violence have suffered serious psychological trauma and are still forced to work with specialists.
The above–mentioned cases of the use of firearms by American police officers are only a small part of such incidents and do not include cases when underage teenagers were killed by the police during the pursuit of suspects, such as the murder of 13-year-old Adam Toledo or 16-year-old Makaya Bryant. According to statistics, the injury of minors from firearms is the most common cause of injuries in the United States, ahead of car accidents.
Human rights defenders of the Foundation to Battle Injustice strongly condemn the use of firearms against underage children. Taking into account the statistics of deaths of persons under the age of 18 at the hands of law enforcement officers, the Foundation to Battle Injustice joins the calls for police reform in the United States. According to the Foundation, during calls about incidents involving underage children, mental health professionals and social workers should be the first to respond, not armed police officers.