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The Maryland Teen Who Was Pepper-Sprayed Could Have Been My Daughter

Photograph by Twenty20

Maryland police officers pepper-sprayed a teenage girl last week while she was in the backseat of a squad car and detained her for being “assaultive.” This was after they pulled her off of her bike by her backpack straps and attempted to forcibly restrain her. After she’d just collided with a car while crossing an intersection. She is 15. All I can think is: That could be my daughter. She looks like my kid.

And I cried. As I watched the Hagerstown police bodycam video, I cried thinking to myself, “what if this was my daughter?”

Unfortunately, this type of story isn’t shocking news anymore to some. It’s simply par for the course. Last summer, there was the pool party incident in Texas with a 200-pound officer sitting on the back of young black girl who was crying out for her mother. It was heart-wrenching and frustrating to watch.

This is my teenage daughter’s new reality. She’s now perceived to be as much of a threat as her younger brother is. (Which is ridiculous, given that he’s 4 years old.) But we’ve also seen footage of police officers detaining black boys as young as 7 and taking their information down, simply for riding their bikes. Not only is that racial profiling, that is beyond scary to me as a parent.

These are now the things I have to warn her about. Along with providing her with the right words and attitude to keep her body safe from would-be predators or even close “friends.” I now have to give my daughter a new set of rules for dealing with the police. She already knows the basics; do what they say (no failure to comply here), hands up, yes sir/ma’am, no attitudes.

But now I have to include these warnings: don’t cry out, don’t look like you’re going to argue, don’t make any movement at all. Basically, keep calm until you can call your mom. When she asks to go to the local shopping center to hang out, I ask who’s going and remind her to be aware at all times. Not just of what she’s doing but what her friends may be up to as well.

“If you’re in a group in a store, keep your hands in sight. If one of your friends steals something, you are the one that’s going to be stopped. Not your white friends,” I’ve told my daughter.

I hate that this is her reality because it was mine, too. I remember how my mom would warn me that I couldn’t do and get away with all the things my friends did because of my skin color. And I laughed at her at the time. What did she know? It was the ’90s with people saying “love sees no color” and all that. I didn’t believe it any more than my daughter probably did until the last year.

I now have to include these safety warnings: don’t cry out, don’t look like you’re going to argue, don’t make any movement at all. Basically, keep calm until you can call your mom.

What’s even more frustrating are the comments from adults on what the teenage girl from Maryland should have or could have done. People will speculate on everything from why she was riding a bike without a helmet to why she didn’t want her parents called—and find fault with her, her upbringing, her “attitude.” Everything except why she was being man-handled the way she was by police when she was the victim.

I immediately broke down crying again, thinking of my own introverted teen. There is no way in hell she’d be able to articulate anything if she was in that situation, and it scares me to think how things could turn out for her. When kids (teenagers, in particular) are confronted with authority, they panic.

I’ve seen it during broad daylight with mall “security” how they squirm and fidget, and look like walking “fight or flight” graphics. To me, it’s quite clear from the video of the teenage girl in Maryland that she’s confused and scared. And she has every right to be.

No doubt she knows what’s happening in this country; that she’s most likely heard the stories of black teens and women mysteriously dying in jail and probably thought that could happen to her. She had every right to be scared. Sure, the police officers were trying to do their job, but there is a way to do that without instilling further fear into the person with whom you are working with. But hey, what do I know, I’m just a black mom, trying to keep her family alive in today’s world.

As a mother who sends her husband and two children out into the world daily, this shook me to my core. We have to do better, y’all. Yes, children should be respectful to adults, but at what point are we as adults going to stop abusing our authority and power over these kids? When will we say this is too much? These are children. When?

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