How can we reform cops if they just investigate themselves and always say they did nothing wrong?

Millions of people have already seen the disturbing viral video of White Syracuse officers detaining an 8-year-old boy over a stolen bag of chips. Just days after a Grand Rapids cop killed Patrick Lyoya during a routine traffic stop, the image of three White cops dragging a Black boy into the back of a police car while he cried his eyes out understandably sparked outrage online. According to Syracuse.com, Syracuse police officials defend the cops involved in the incident, which he described as “community policing 101.”

On Thursday, Syracuse PD responded to backlash about how its officers manhandled the second-grader with a classic cop excuse: blaming the victims. First Deputy Police Chief Joe Cecile held a press conference to add context to the situation by accusing the boy seen in the video and his two brothers of repeatedly stealing from convenience stores. Cecile played and discussed bodycam footage from the officers that showed they were familiar with the boys and their father, Anthony Weah.

“Didn’t we just go through this?” Officer Matthew Behuniak said as he struggled to put the crying child in the back of his police cruiser. “You were crying in the backseat of my car, remember that?”

The officers took the boys home, and they told Weah, “That’s what they do every day. They go to stores and steal stuff.” It’s not exactly comforting to hear that the traumatic scene from that viral video of the incident happens regularly with these young children. Still, Cecile claims it’s proof that his officers are involved in the community.

“The officers knew that child by name and face. Granted, not for the reasons we would like them to know them, but they knew them. They knew where he lived, they knew his parents. And when they took the child home, they took the time to engage with that father, with that child, with his siblings and talk about what went on,” Cecile said.

“Folks, this is community policing 101. It is what every citizen is asking from our police department — community policing — and it’s what we ask the officers to do as well. Know your territory, know the citizens in your territory, whether they are the adults or the children,” Cecile continued. “And whenever possible, get out of your patrol car and engage with them when you are trying to address a chronic problem. And let’s be honest here, this was a chronic problem.”

There’s probably more than one “chronic problem” here since Cecile just took over Syracuse PD when Police Chief Kenton Buckner resigned days after the video was released. Despite the positive and progressive vibe of the press conference, it’s a huge red flag when the Black police chief quits as soon as a video of “community policing 101” goes viral.

The press conference offered hope for new interventions to address issues like juvenile crime, which police aren’t well-equipped to handle. “We want to get out of that business,” Cecile said, echoing the decades-old message of police abolitionists. It’s nice that Cecile and Mayor Ben Walsh see the incident as a teachable moment that inspires some much-needed police alternatives and reform, but Syracuse PD shouldn’t be let off the hook for doing the bare minimum.

Anthony Weah accused the officers of using excessive force when they apprehended his son. In the footage, a cop snatched the boy off his bike. Weah was already struggling to care for a sick wife while working and raising his three sons. The last thing his family needs is Syracuse cops traumatizing the kids even more. Mayor Walsh also agreed that cops aren’t enough to help children in struggling families.

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