Black Girls Are Treated Like Adults In Most Police Encounters, Experts Say

Black Girls Are Treated Like Adults In Most Police Encounters, Experts Say

Treating young Black girls like they are older than they actually are is called "adultification bias" and is a lot more prevalent than we think.

Image Source: Getty Images/tommaso79/Representative

A video of police from Rochester, New York, pepper-spraying and manhandling a nine-year-old Black girl is making the rounds on social media. The body camera clip shows police officers treating the fourth-grader like a crime suspect when they were only called to handle "family trouble," reported ABC News. At one point a police officer says, “You're acting like a child!” to which the girl replies, “I am a child!” 


This incident was just one example of how Black girls are not allowed to be children. Especially when it comes to police encounters. It brings to light a bigger issue at hand called the "adultification bias." "The world ages black girls up, which leaves them unable to access the privileges of childhood, like the benefit of the doubt in punishment situations and support figures like mentors," Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez wrote for The New York Times. Research has found that Black girls are treated like they are older than they are, as early as preschool. Young black girls are labeled "manipulative"  or "disruptive" and held to a higher standard than their white counterparts even though they are displaying age-appropriate behavior. Both young Black girls and boys go through adultification but it is more prevalent with girls than it is with boys.


A 2017 study titled "Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood," conducted by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls as young as five years old are viewed as needing less protection and nurturing than White girls. Black girls were seen as less innocent and more adult-like than white girls of the same age. The study stated that because of the way young Black girls are treated differently, it could have a "possible causal connection with negative outcomes across a diverse range of public systems, including education, juvenile justice, and child welfare."


Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, told Vox, "It’s really striking that in the context of childhood, which is the epitome of innocence, Black girls are not getting the benefits of being viewed as innocent." As part of the research, an overwhelming majority of the women in the focus groups said they had been treated harshly as children, especially when compared to their White peers. A number of factors could be contributing to this disparate behavior, including “negative stereotypes of Black women, as well as racism, sexism, and poverty.”


"We're not even seen as children," Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, an organization that advocates for reproductive justice for women of color, told CNN. "We are seen as Black people who, to them, read as threats." Simpson was a victim of police brutality and at the age of 11 was pepper-sprayed by the police as well. There have been innumerable instances of Black girls being manhandled by authorities. "This is happening on a scale that is unacceptable and it indicates that this is not about a few bad apples," Epstein said. "But it's a systemic problem that is rooted in racism, rooted in developmentally inappropriate approaches to children that needs to be fixed."


The Black Lives Matter movement that picked up steam last year after the death of George Floyd essentially focused on the police killings of Black men or boys. "We see Black women and girls invisiblized in the conversation of police violence," Beatriz Beckford, national director of youth and education justice for MomsRising, a group that advocates for women, mothers, and families said. "And we don't see the same amount of outpouring or outcrying of disgust when it comes to little Black girls and Black women."


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