Police were scouring a neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a 40-year-old attempted murder suspect. Instead, in a moment that has cast a harsh spotlight on the western Michigan city, an officer ended up pointing his gun at — then handcuffing — a screeching 11-year-old girl.
The 45-second video clip from an officer’s body camera, made public by the city’s police department this week, was full of outrage-inducing elements: a petrified preteen who started shrieking when she heard the click of handcuffs; a police use of force with racial overtones; a law enforcement agency already criticized in March after an officer pointed a gun at black youth who had done nothing wrong.
The most recent incident happened Dec. 6 on the northwest side of Grand Rapids, according to Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WOOD.
Officers were searching for a woman named Carrie Manning, who was suspected of stabbing her younger sister. Instead, at a nearby home, they encountered Honestie Hodges — the suspect’s niece — who was walking out the door on the way to the store with her mom and another aunt. Manning is a 40-year-old white woman, according to the news station. Honestie is an 11-year-old black girl.
The officers asked the two women and Honestie to approach separately, then handcuffed and questioned them all. But the most controversial clip involves officers’ treatment of the girl.
The video released by police picked up as Honestie approached a pair of officers with her arms raised. One pointed a gun at her.
She appeared to be coming too fast for the officer’s liking: He began to tell her to put her hands on her head, then instructed her to turn around and walk backward toward him.
Her mother, in the background, yelled for the officers to stop: “That is my child!” she screamed. “She’s 11 years old.”
The moment intensified when Honestie reached the officers. One told her to “put your right hand behind your back” and ratcheted open a pair of handcuffs.
Honestie began whining, then screaming in terror: “No. No. No! No!”
One of the officers handcuffing her tried to calm her: “You’re not going to jail or anything,” but the screams continued as the video clip ended.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Honestie told Grand Rapids Fox affiliate WXMI after the incident. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve never got in trouble by the Grand Rapids Police. I used to want to be a Grand Rapids police officer, but ever since that happened, I want nothing to do with them.”
Chief David Rahinsky, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said watching the video made him sick.
“You listen to the 11-year-old’s response, it makes my stomach turn,” he said. “It makes me physically nauseous.”
He said he believed the officers behaved incorrectly and instead should have “asked the 11-year-old to back to you, take her behind the car and have a very different conversation with her.” The department has launched an internal investigation.
“Are there incidents where you deal with young people who present a danger to either other people or themselves? Yes,” he told reporters. “But I don’t believe this is one of them.”
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said at a city commission meeting that she found the video “deeply, deeply disturbing. It was heartbreaking. This little girl, Honestie, she was clearly terrified. No child in our community should experience that, and we have a lot of work to do, and we know that.”
Still, the police chief defended his officers’ actions to an extent, saying they were searching for a person they believe tried to kill someone and were approaching with extreme caution. It’s not unusual, the chief said, for a crime suspect to ask an innocent party — even a child — to hold a weapon, hoping that person won’t be searched.
Still, Rahinsky said, the incident with Honestie “affirms what many of you know, what we have known for a long time, which is that we have a lot of work to do.”
The incident happened as police across the nation are under increased scrutiny for violent interactions. So far this year, 926 people have been shot and killed by police, according to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. Of those, nearly a quarter — 212 people — were black. In 2016, 963 people were killed by police and 24 percent were black.
Grand Rapids has not been immune to the debate: The incident with Honestie is the second time officers have pointed guns at innocent black children.
In March, officers received a call about a fight at a neighborhood center in which one of the suspects may have had a gun, according to the Grand Rapids Press.
About 10 minutes later, Officer Caleb Johnson spotted a group of five black boys — ages 12 to 14 — including one who was dribbling a basketball.
The officer got out of the car, gun drawn, and demanded that the boys get on the ground.
As the officer held the boys at gunpoint, one wailed and cried, “I don’t want to die.”
Before things were sorted out, at least eight officers responded to the scene.
The boys’ parents, and pretty much the rest of Grand Rapids, were incensed. Hundreds packed into a city commission chamber to comment on the incident, including many who wore buttons emblazoned with #WouldYouPullAGunOnMe, according to the Grand Rapids Press.
“We can’t stop thinking of the fact that — what if one of our babies had made the wrong move?” said Shawndryka Moore, of Grand Rapids, whose son is 14 and was involved. “And they wouldn’t be here with us tonight. Would you be okay? Would it be proper protocol then?”
Rahinsky defended the officers in that incident — both at that city council meeting and on Tuesday.
“The officers didn’t do anything wrong. They acted on articulated facts from a witness moments earlier who said he saw them hand a gun to each other,” Rahinsky said at the meeting. “I respect [critics’] emotion. I think what we’re hearing is a lot of grief and frustration to systemic issues.”
But nine months later, he found himself facing questions about those same systemic issues.
His department has tried to address them with diversity training, he explained to reporters Tuesday.
And he said he would try to explain the officers’ perspective to Honestie’s family.
“You should feel safe running to an officer,” Rahinsky told reporters. “You should not see an officer and have a response that’s anything but reassuring. So we’ve got work to do. We’ve got work to do as a profession, we’ve got work to do as an agency, and we’ve got hard questions to ask as a community.”
But it was unclear whether Honestie was ready to talk to anyone in a police uniform.
“Chief or not,” Honestie told WXMI. “I really don’t feel comfortable around any cops.”