Updated: Jul 2, 2019
By Stacy Fitzgerald
A now viral video of Phoenix Police threats against an engaged African American couple whose four-year-old daughter took a doll from a dollar store is causing outrage at the treatment of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement.
While conflicting details of the incident are coming from the couple and the police, the video prompted Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego to issue a statement of apology to the couple, stating that she was “sick” at the inappropriate and unprofessional actions of the officers who pulled the couple over with guns drawn and shouted expletives following a call from an employee at a local Family Dollar store about a stolen doll.
In late May, an employee of a local Family Dollar store called the Phoenix police to report a possible shoplifting case. Following receipt of the description of the vehicle, police identified the car carrying Ames, Harper and their four year-old and one year-old daughters. The cops followed it without sirens into the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex, where the couple was to have dropped off their kids at the babysitter.
The police approached the vehicle with guns drawn.
One of the two officers shouted expletives telling Mr. Ames to get his hands up. That officer can be heard saying that he’s going to “put a cap” in Mr. Ames’s head. As he exited the car, the officer pressed him against the pavement, handcuffed him then pushed him against the police vehicle.
The second officer pointed his firearm toward the car as the couple’s four-year-old daughter climbed out from the back seat, followed by Ms. Harper, who was carrying the one-year-old.
As he ordered Ms. Harper to put the child down, she released her daughter and the officer grabbed her arm, handcuffed her and began to question the couple over the doll and a package of underwear that also was reportedly stolen.
The couple allegedly acknowledged that they realized their four-year-old had taken the doll, only after they got back to the car and were eventually released by the officers without charges being filed. However, the damage had been done and the incident was filmed by two bystanders.
An Excessive Response, A Prompt Lawsuit
Following the release of that video, the Phoenix Police Chief apologized to the couple, announced that its Professional Standards Bureau was reviewing the incident and that the officers had been placed on leave while the investigation proceeds.
Meanwhile, the couple has filed a $10 million lawsuit citing the violation of their civil rights.
This is only the latest in a disturbing increase in excessive police encounters with unarmed black citizens. All too often, unarmed blacks are subject to harassment, intimidation, excessive force and even shot at the hands of police officers over relatively minor offenses.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen in this case, but why was such force used in response to a toddler taking a doll valued at less than $10 from a retail store? Would the police response have been the same if a white child had taken the doll?
Police Officers Must Do Better
Most parents can recall an incident where they discovered their own child had left a store with an item that they didn’t notice and, therefore, hadn’t paid for. It can happen quickly and easily when fast-moving toddlers are afoot.
It’s innocent and easy enough to fix, which is why the overzealous and egregiously violent and profane response from the officers is so riling. A stolen doll should not compel the same response as an armed bank robbery, and police must do better in checking their racial bias, practicing sound judgement and treating every citizen equally when presented with such calls.
No one should have to fear for their life over a child’s toy.
Stacy Fitzgerald is a Washington, DC area Gen Xer whose obsessions include politics, traveling and food and wine ventures.