GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Department is again the subject of scrutiny for how an officer treated a black child during an investigation.
Car’reion Baker, 12, was arrested near his home in the 700 block of Neland Avenue SE north of Franklin Street Saturday afternoon.
Grand Rapids police said officers were in the area after getting reports of a large fight involving 15 to 20 people. As police cleared the scene, they came across the incident involving Car’reion that caught their eye.
Police said Car’reion was seen chasing a man and was carrying a “wooden pole.” When an officer approached the boy, Car’reion fell onto the ground as he threw the object and was taken into custody, police said. Police say he kicked an officer while he was trying to make the arrest.
A witness to the ordeal, Ted Jauw, posted his perspective on what happened to Facebook. The narrative was shared more than 2,000 times on the social media site as of Monday evening.
“Officers took it upon themselves to engage individuals in a way that was not de-escalating or empathetic to the optics of a bunch of mostly white male cops on a young black boy,” Jauw wrote. “The message was clear that we were the problem now.”
Jauw and Car’reion’s family members say police misread the situation. They say what the officers thought was a potential “felonious assault” was actually a boy chasing his adult cousin with a stick. They say Car’reion was simply playing with a relative and should never have encountered the police.
“He couldn’t even see who was coming for him or who was on him until they picked him up off the ground,” Car’reion’s mother Bernice Jones told 24 Hour News 8. “It was scary.”
The cousin who said he was the one being chased by Car’reion would only identify himself as Mo fearing retribution from police. He said he was not a victim.
“We were just playing,” Mo told 24 Hour News 8. “That’s my cousin. How can I be a victim of my cousin?”
Mo said he didn’t approach police to tell his story after the incident because he doesn’t talk to law enforcement officers as a personal policy.
“Police, they racist,” he said. “They’ll get you, try to hem you up on something.”
The Grand Rapids Police Department posted a lengthy response to Jauw’s narrative online Monday afternoon.
“The officers on scene used their discretion to not arrest the 12-year-old for felonious assault or assault on a police officer, but rather the least serious of the offenses: resisting and obstructing a police officer and disorderly fighting,” the post read in part. “Our top priority is to keep our community safe. We are grateful for your engagement and we look forward to continued conversation with you and other residents about how we serve our community.”
Car’reion said the encounter with police caught him off guard and scared him.
“Out of nowhere, the cops showed up and they handcuffed me,” he said. “I felt like I was actually going to go to jail.”
Car’reion was taken to the Kent County jail for processing but was immediately released to his family, police said.
Car’reion said the encounter changed his view of police officers.
“Before they handcuffed me, I thought the police was just like- I thought they were heroes,” Car’reion said. “They made me feel bad when they handcuffed me.”
The 12-year-old and his mother admitted that the boy kicked an officer during the arrest.
“I kicked one of the cops like this,” Car’reion said, demonstrating a backward kicking motion. “Not hard, though.”
Jauw said he didn’t fault the officer for approaching the situation initially but said he felt the police could have de-escalated the matter once it was evident they were dealing with a child.
“They missed a huge opportunity to take a step back and to take a deep breath and to do something that was right,” Jauw told 24 Hour News 8. “There were a dozen times they could have reversed the course of what happened and what probably 15, 20 kids’ perceptions of police officers are today.”
Jauw questioned GRPD’s commitment to community policing in his neighborhood.
“We don’t see community policing here in this neighborhood,” Jauw said. “Here on the ground, here in this neighborhood and in other neighborhoods like it, we aren’t seeing it.”
Criticism of Saturday’s incident is another in a growing list of headline-making interactions between Grand Rapids police and black children. Last year, the department implemented a policy named after a child involved in one such incident. The “Honestie Policy” was intended to give officers latitude to treat juveniles differently during police encounters. But police emphasize that the policy doesn’t mean children will never be handcuffed, arrested, or subject to officers’ use of force when police deem in necessary.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said that as of Monday, that no requests for charges had been submitted in the case.
Grand Rapids police officials declined to speak on camera about the incident in question. They say the incident was captured on police body camera, which the department plans to post to its Facebook page in the near future.