Children Are Allegedly Getting Tear Gassed & Maced at Protests Erupting Around the Country

Child tear gassed
WPTA/YouTube

If you thought the country was in a bad place a month ago, the events of the last week have certainly flipped everything on its head. In just days, the brutal death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25, has sparked outrage, nationwide protests, and sadly, even more violence. Some police departments throughout the country are facing additional scrutiny after peaceful demonstrations have spiraled, with protestors claiming that excessive force was used. In two such cases, witnesses say children were either tear gassed or sprayed with mace while protesting.

  • The first incident reportedly happened during a protest Saturday in Seattle.

    Witnesses say an officer maced a 9-year-old girl in the face while she and hundreds of others walked the streets calling for an end to police brutality.

    Several sources told BuzzFeed News that the protest had been peaceful up until that point, and just minutes before the child was maced, protesters had even led a prayer for peace.

    "I was walking around and observing -- everyone was peaceful," witness Evan Hreha told BuzzFeed. "There was some heckling at the cops but that was to be expected."

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  • The mood abruptly shifted just minutes later, after one protestor holding a sign seemed to move forward. 

    According to Hreha, this caused the police officers to push forward "aggressively."

    "The next thing you know, the little girl and others were running out screaming," he recalled to Buzzfeed News. "They had been maced and that's when I started filming. Everybody on the left side of the street were all saying that it was Officer Campbell [who maced]."

    Moments later, Hreha approached the officer he believed was responsible, and confronted him.

    "When I went back over and started filming him, he was really stone-faced and smirking a little bit," Hreha continued. "People were asking why he did it." 

    Hreha claimed that the officer did not respond to questions, other than to say his body cam was rolling. However, during a follow-up press conference, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan acknowledged that body cams were actually turned off at the time, as is common during protests.

  • The Seattle PD has not confirmed the name of the officer involved in the incident, though the department did confirm that it's investigating it.

    "Uses of force, including pepper spray, during the demonstrations will undergo a high level of scrutiny and review by the chain of command," Kelsey Nyland of the police department's Joint Information Center told BuzzFeed. "This incident in particular has been referred to the [Office of Police Accountability] and an investigation has commenced."

  • The incident sparked outrage across Twitter, as footage of the 9-year-old screaming out in pain began to circulate.

    "I'm weeping for her!" one person tweeted.

    "This baby didn't deserve this. No child does, no excuse," someone else wrote. "I hate to show her little face but y'all gotta know how real this is. The police really MACED A KID. Please stay safe and protect the children. They deserve a just and fair future."

    "The #seattleprotest was peaceful. But that didn't matter to the Seattle PD," wrote another Twitter user. "They fired tear gas into the crowd, use flash bangs, and mace the crowd, INCLUDING A CHILD. It was [not] the protesters, it was the Police that escalated things."

  • At the same time, claims of other similar incidents in other cities began popping up as well.

    In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the image of a toddler who had been tear gassed during a protest went viral over the weekend. What's even more disturbing is that her mother, Mechell Hensler, later told WPTA the family hadn't been a part of the protest at all. In fact, she was on her way back from getting groceries.

    "I was trying to go home and was gassed out of my vehicle," Hensler shared of how she got caught in the crossfire of the protest.

    Jessica Farlow, who lives nearby, told the news station that she saw what happened and ran over to help.

    "I ran over immediately to help and the child's face and their entire body was red with this capsaicin or pepper spray," she recalled. "We spent about 10 minutes dousing her in Maalox and water and milk, taking her clothes off, treating her."

  • What reportedly happened next left the Fort Wayne mother -- and several bystanders -- truly shocked.

    "I said she's only 3, I'm not even here for the protest. We got gassed out of our vehicle," Hensler said of her exchange with a Fort Wayne police officer. "And he dead looked at my daughter and [threw] the canister in front of her, and it exploded in front of her face.

    "The hard part for me was right when the second canister came," Farlow added. "I had given her a cough drop, and she had looked at me and said thank you for the candy and she was smiling again. And I felt like we had done what we came to do. She was smiling, she wasn't scared. And then the second canister exploded. And all over again, everything we had just worked for was in her lungs and on her body, and she was naked because we had already taken her clothes off."

    Hensler noted that her toddler daughter used to love police officers -- but just one day after being tear gassed by one, she immediately burst into tears after seeing one on the street.

  • It's important to note, however, that this is not how all peaceful protests are unfolding throughout the country.

    In some cities across the US, police officers were pictured kneeling in solidarity during their local protests. And in Flint, Michigan, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson actually joined in with protestors on Sunday. 

    "We want to be with y'all for real," Swanson told the crowds in a clip that was captured by cell phones and news cameras. "So I took my helmet off, I laid the batons down. I want to make this a parade, not a protest."

    Swanson went on to remind protestors that although the police officers standing before them in riot gear may look menacing, they were there to protect them, first and foremost.

    "So listen, I'm just telling you: These cops love you. That cop over there hugs people. So, you tell us what you need to do."

  • Swanson's words were met with cheers and chants from the crowd of protestors, who shouted, "Walk with us! Walk with us!"

    In an interview with Today, Swanson explained why he decided to remove his riot gear and join the crowd. 

    "It was a spontaneous decision, and I'll tell you with all the police agencies there, Flint Township being the lead for the area, it made the most sense that when I saw the crowd and felt the frustration and the fact that we were only accelerating the issue, it was time to take the helmet off, go to the shot caller, the lead organizer, give him a big old fat hug and say, 'What do we need to do?'" he shared.

    "That was the tension breaker, and then the next question was the one that made history," he said.