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Rochester Police Officers, Who Pepper-Sprayed Girl, Are Suspended

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Rochester, N.Y., one police officer is suspended and two others are on administrative leave after they handcuffed and pepper sprayed a 9-year-old girl. Body cam footage shows her struggling with police and screaming for her dad as officers try to force her into a police car. They wanted to take her to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You're acting like a child. Stop.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I want to - I am a child.

INSKEEP: Rochester police were already under investigation for the death in custody of Daniel Prude, a mentally ill Black man. NPR's Liz Baker reports on the reaction.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Keep your cuffs off of our kids. Keep your cuffs off of our kids.

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: A hundred or so protesters endured the biting Rochester cold last night, rallying outside a police precinct. Ann Maurice Jones (ph) walked with her 8 and 9-year-old little siblings, shouting chants that are so familiar after weeks of protests over the summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Who keep us safe?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We keep us safe.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Who keep us safe?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We keep us safe.

ANN MAURICE JONES: I'll do it every time. I don't care. Winter, spring, summer, fall, I'm always going to do it. I'm always going to fight for us.

SHALONDA JONES: You mean to tell me no cop there was a parent, no cop, not one?

BAKER: Shalonda Jones is with the Community Justice Initiative, which organized the rally. She says suspension of the officers is not enough.

JONES: They're still making the same amount of money. They're just not having to go to work. But this little girl is traumatized. It's not fair.

BAKER: Many in the small crowd also marched night after night last September, demanding justice for Daniel Prude, police reform and more empathetic policing of those experiencing mental illness. And the city of Rochester did create a Persons in Crisis program designed to have mental health professionals respond to mental health calls. But according to the mayor, the new program, which launched only a few weeks ago, wasn't triggered in this case because of the way the 911 call came in, as a family distress call and not as a mental health call. Officers determined the girl was possibly a danger to herself and others only after they arrived on scene. Activist Stanley Martin led protests all summer and is now running for Rochester City Council.

STANLEY MARTIN: They keep saying change is coming, they're doing things differently. And we see with our own eyes that it's still the same police force.

BAKER: And once again, she says, all eyes are on Rochester.

Liz Baker, NPR News, Rochester, N.Y.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST SONG, "MULAGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.