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IDEAS Statement from Leaders

Statement from Leaders of GCH's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-Racism and Social Justice (IDEAS) Council

The Recent Pepper Spraying of a Nine-Year Old Girl in Police Custody

In January 2021, a nine-year-old girl in our community was handcuffed and pepper sprayed by law enforcement. As community of those who care about children and see their fundamental humanity, we need to ask ourselves how we got to this point, where children of color are viewed as a threat and treated as such, held down against their will, restrained, and assaulted with chemical irritants.  As community members committed to the wellness of children, we must reflect and hold ourselves accountable.

Our Golisano Children’s Hospital community sees this incident through many lenses: health care providers, behavioral health specialists, caretakers, all parts of a community committed to the wellness of children.  Many of us are also parents, and see our children reflected in that nine year old girl; those of us who are not parents need only see this child’s humanity to be humbled by the trauma that she experienced at the hands of those who pledge to serve and defend.

Children are not small adults. A nine-year-old is just starting to think independently and learning to identify their emotions. As pediatric specialists, we expect nine-year-old children to have tantrums, yell, hit other people, throw objects, and not follow directions—especially when those actions are clearly a reaction out of fear or lack of developmentally appropriate communication. By treating children with expectations that are too high—by expecting them to act like adults—we derail healthy development. When these expectations come from police and other authority figures, they can be traumatic, and research has shown that the adultification of black children contributes to harsher school punishments, as well as greater use of force and harsher penalties in the juvenile justice system.  

As professionals that care for children and as members of the Rochester community, we hold collective responsibility for and to all members of our community, and we offer the following steps to start repairing the harm that has been done.

  • For the children in our community, we can offer trauma-informed care in all out practices, and support our Behavioral Health colleagues in offering services, support, and training for community members.
  • We can advocate strongly, courageously, and continuously for a return to in-person schooling for the City of Rochester, and stop being complicit in the educational inequities that have long plagued our Black and Brown children and are being amplified during the COVID pandemic.
  • For the historically minoritized communities of Rochester we will commit to Golisano Children’s Hospital being a safe space where all are honored, cared for, and nurtured.  We commit to working on health beyond the walls of our hospital, by partnering with school districts, community agencies, and governmental leaders to advance programs and services that contribute to thriving for communities of color.
  • For our systems of power – legislators, and police – we support the Police Accountability Board and the Children’s Agenda to minimize police/youth interactions and provide actionable, accountable training for police in de-escalation and working with youth.  We are calling for accountability for the officers involved in last weeks’ assault; this behavior is morally unacceptable and must be addressed as such.  We are calling for support for police officers so that they can maintain their wellbeing and be their best selves as they serve our communities.  We can expand our Community Consultation Program, a group of behavior experts who work with children in schools and other community environments on de-escalation strategies for mental health, developmental, and behavioral issues.   
  • We are not law enforcement experts but we want to extend our expertise in the social, emotional and physical wellness of children to our law enforcement communities.

We unequivocally denounce this measure of force when tending to a child in crisis and strongly advocate for the prohibition of such unnecessary force. As advocates for child health and safety, we will work to ensure that no child is ever subjected to this level of pain and treatment.

She deserved better; we will do better.

Katherine Blumoff Greenberg, M.D.
Vice Chair for Equity and Inclusion
Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center

Heather Wensley R.N., M.S.N., P.N.P. 
Chair, AC6 Diversity and Inclusion Committee
General Pediatrics Practice Manager

Krystle Ellis
Parent and IDEAs council member