Had there been any reason to suspect that an 11-year-old girl had been the person the cops were looking for, might pose a threat of harm to the officers, there might be some nagging voice in the back of your head saying, “well sure, it’s needless, wrong and just perversely cruel, but not totally outside the realm of reason.” Except none of this was true for 11-year-hold Honestie Hodges.
“Put your hands on top of your—,” an officer ordered them before he was interrupted by Honestie’s mother screaming, “She is 11 years old, sir!”
“Stop yelling!” the officer responded, as recorded by an officer’s body camera. He ordered Honestie to walk backward toward him with her hands up.
The cops responded to a stabbing call. They were looking for a 40-year-old woman.
A second officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back and handcuffed her. Honestie shouted, “No, No, No!” pleading with the officers not to place the cuffs on her.
It wasn’t that they confused Honestie with the person for whom they were searching. Indeed, she’s told “you’re not in any trouble” as she wailed “no” and they put her in cuffs. Yet, they still did it. They still be handcuffs on a child who was “not in any trouble.” Just in case. Just because. Just a child.
The officers involved weren’t disciplined, fired or prosecuted. There was no reason for them to be, They were just doing their job, in accordance with the policy of the Grand Rapids police department, by securing the area, the people present, while searching for the stabber. The cops were authorized to exercise their discretion for the sake of officer safety, to use whatever custodial means they deemed appropriate to make sure they were safe from threats. As if this child were a threat.
They didn’t know? An 11-year-old can do harm if she’s armed, if she’s inclined to harm a cop. If there is reason to believe so, that would be one thing, and still raise questions as to why the cops couldn’t have checked to make sure she was unarmed and then had her take a seat while they questioned the adults with her.
But that would have taken some thought, some risk, some concern for the welfare of a child. That was more effort than the cops were willing to expend.
“Listening to the 11-year-old’s response makes my stomach turn,” the chief, David M. Rahinsky, said at a news conference. “It makes me physically nauseous.”
People claim to be traumatized by a great many things these days, from hearing a word they’re told is offensive to seeing a person of the wrong race with their hair improperly coiffed. Even though Honestie Hodges wasn’t held in handcuffs very long, it was long enough to make an impression.
Unlike those who lay claim to “feeling unsafe” for no better reason than they know that’s how they’re supposed to feel, putting cuffs on a kid is very much a physical act, and one that holds grave potential for far worse to follow. That gives rise to actual trauma, rational fear, a damn good reason to feel unsafe.
In an interview with a Grand Rapids news station, WOOD-TV, this week, Honestie said that when the police placed her in the back of a car, “It made feel scared and it made me feel like I did something wrong.” She added that she was now afraid to go near her back door.
Had this been your child, would this treatment be understandable, excusable? Would you have calmly allowed this to happen to your kid, who did nothing wrong, posed no threat, had given police no cause in the world to treat like a criminal? But then, Honestie Hodges wasn’t your child, a point that Honestie understood.
At the time, Honestie, who was Black, spoke out. “I have a question for the Grand Rapids police: If this happened to a white child, if her mother was screaming, ‘She’s 11,’ would you have handcuffed her and put her in the back of a police car?” she was quoted as saying on MLive.com, a Michigan news site.
Maybe it would have happened to a white child, provided the white child lived in a bad neighborhood rather than a mid-century split level with shag carpeting. The cops may have had authority under department policies to take whatever precautions they deemed necessary for their safety, but they weren’t mandated to do so. There was no rule they had to cuff a child.
Had it been a child from another family, another race, another location, would they have felt any threat? Would the cops concern for the child, the recognition that this was just a kid, have overcome their inclination to treat her like a violent threat? Would they have seen the 11-year-old and thought, “she’s no different than my child, and I wouldn’t do this to my child”?
In March 2018, the police department adopted the “Honestie Policy,” which called for using the least restrictive options when dealing with youths.
Cute name aside, at least there was some minimal recognition that children shouldn’t be treated like the most potentially threatening adults, who also should be given the benefit of the least restrictive option. Not that a policy shift like this does much to change the mindset, as the cops always had the authority not to treat an 11-year-old like a potential killer for no reason whatsoever, and did so only because they chose to do so. What constitutes the “least restrictive option” remains nothing more than a matter of discretion, officer safety still being paramount to any concern for anyone else.
But all this happened in 2017. On November 8, 2020, Honestie Hodges turned 14. She no longer feels the trauma of her experience. On November 22, 2020, Honestie Hodges died of COVID-19. May her memory be a blessing.