Kids Are Collateral Damage When Police Decide To Shoot


A five-year-old boy’s life was changed forever Monday, when he was shot in the leg and watched his mother, Korryn Gaines, die in an armed standoff with Baltimore County police over outstanding traffic violations. Gaines barricaded herself in her apartment in Randallstown, MD, holding five-year-old Kodi and a shotgun. Police tried to coax her out and ultimately ended up exchanging fire. It’s not yet clear what Kodi witnessed, but in a video Gaines posted on Facebook during the standoff, the child said “they’re trying to kill us.”

His is a common story.

Last month, a four-year-old girl in Minnesota watched a cop shoot her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castile. She was sitting in the back of her mother’s car when Officer Jeronimo Yanez pointed his gun in the car and fired at Castile, who was sitting in the front seat and reaching for his I.D. and license to carry. The child was clearly visible in the backseat, but Yanez decided to shoot anyway. Then, as Castile bled out, his colleagues swarmed the car with their weapons trained on the little girl’s mother.

In 2013, a one-year-old infant miraculously survived the barrage of bullets that killed her mother, Miriam Carey. Carey’s fatal mistake was making an illegal U-turn at a White House checkpoint and driving away as fast as possible. Capitol Police fired 26 bullets at her car, hitting Carey five times from behind, including once in the head. While physically unharmed, the infant was left motherless long before she could understand why.

Time and time again, children are collateral damage when police decide to use deadly force against adults. Sometimes they end up dead, like 12-year-old Ciara Meyer in Pennsylvania, who was accidentally shot by a volunteer Constable aiming for her father. Other times, they are left to deal with the loss of a parent or loved one.

Many of these circumstances could be avoided if police were better trained to work with children at the time of an arrest or shooting.

The Singular Trauma Of A Child Who Loses A Parent To A Police ShootingHealth by CREDIT: ABC What impact does a racially-charged police shooting have on the children left behind? By now, the…thinkprogress.orgTo date, there are no nationally-enforced guidelines for how to safeguard children present during an arrest or police standoff. Likewise, there isn’t a nationally-required protocol for police to abide by when a parent is brought into custody — or killed. Without formal guidance, cops are generally allowed to use their intuition, and kids ultimately pay the price.

The moment police arrive to take someone away, children experience elevated stress, anxiety, and fear — emotional distress that sticks with them their entire lives, according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence (NCCEV). That distress is exacerbated when guns are present or force is used to subdue the parent. And because their brains are still developing, kids are unable to fully cope with the trauma, setting them up for problems down the line.

Simply witnessing an arrest can cause separation anxiety, social withdrawal, and aggressive behavior in children. Kids often revert back to “baby-ish behavior,” have difficulty sleeping, and experience unrelenting sadness, anger, fear, and suicidal thoughts. In many cases, psychological stressors cause physical ailments. Police brutality adds another layer to kids’ trauma and initiates a lifelong distrust of the people who are supposed to serve and protect.

By now, the effects of police interactions with parents and their kids are well-documented, yet few departments in the country equip officers with the skills needed to reduce physical and emotional harm to children.

A 2015 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Program Diagnostic Center (OJPDC), and Strategies for Youth (SfY), a youth policy and advocacy organization, found that most departments lack training on how to approach children or notice signs of distress. Protocols for ensuring the safety of children when parents or loved ones are taken away briefly, or locked away for an extended period of time, are also murky — or nonexistent, depending on the department.

Police Violence Is A Public Health IssueHealth by CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert The recent spate of police shootings – leaving two black men dead on opposite…thinkprogress.orgAccording to researchers, officers don’t realize that simply being present can immediately traumatize children. They also have minimal information about the ways trauma manifests itself. That lack of understanding influences the way cops interact with kids during an arrest. Many draw their weapons when they don’t need to, or handcuff parents in front of their kids — two actions that illicit strong reactions in young people. Officers often fail to explain to kids why they are there, adding to their confusion and anxiety. And when police are done making an arrest, children are frequently left alone without no idea of where to go or what to do for help.

In 2014, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) was commissioned by the DOJ to develop a model protocol for safeguarding kids during arrests. Police departments across the country aren’t required to follow it, but the model says officers should do their best to determine if a kid is nearby before apprehending a parent, and postpone an arrest if possible. They are also encouraged to ask people if they have kids in need of childcare, before taking them away. Per IACP guidelines, police should also ensure that there’s a guardian to provide temporary care, or work with child welfare services to find temporary placement.

OJPDC and SfY released a second set of guidelines for police to follow, in 2015. Piggybacking off of the IACP’s model, their experts said officers should also avoid placing handcuffs on parents when kids are present, and refrain from pointing firearms at children. When there isn’t an imminent threat, adults who are about to be taken into custody should have a chance to explain the arrest to their kids and offer as much comfort as possible.

Some cities, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis, have adopted the models laid out by the OJPDC and SfY. But the vast majority of police departments have yet to budge.

For now, it’s unclear whether or not police in Randallstown have a policy for dealing with kids like Gaines’ 5-year-old son. But it’s likely that he’ll suffer from the shooting for the rest of his life.