Children should be allowed to attend peaceful protests. We’re simply not going to be persuaded otherwise. But even if you disagree with us on that, we hope you don’t think police should be punishing kids for being at these demonstrations. Unfortunately, some of the disturbing images coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death are going to have a chilling effect on parents and children who want to exercise their free speech.
In Austin on Saturday, police shot 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala in the face with bean-bag ammunition from a 12-gage shotgun. A video shows him standing by himself on a hill watching a protest when the shot hits him and he crumples to the ground. (Note: We are not embedding some of the upsetting videos referred to in this story, out of respect for the children’s privacy.)
“He’s conscious and in a lot of pain because he was shot right in the middle of his forehead,” his sister, Valarie Sanchez, told the Austin Statesman. “The bullet stayed inside of his head for five hours. The front of his head is fractured and dented and he had some bleeding.”
According to CBS Austin, Ayala required seven hours of surgery to remove the ammunition from his head. He won’t have permanent brain damage, but he will have significant scarring, his family said.
“They shot his face. That is not okay,” Ayala’s brother, Edwin Sanchez, told CBS.
A woman cries after she was shot in the abdomen with a non lethal round while protesting at the Austin Police Department Headquarters on Saturday. The woman, who said she was pregnant, cried “My baby!, My baby!” #GeorgeFloydProtests pic.twitter.com/tp4cbibaig
— Jay Janner (@jayjanner) May 31, 2020
And it’s not just kids: Austin police shot pregnant woman Saneka Martin twice in the abdomen with rubber bullets during a protest outside their headquarters. Photographs and video show others carrying her away to a medic tent.
“They shot her in the stomach, and when she hit the ground, they shot her twice in her spine and in her back,” volunteer medic Maredith Drake told Texas Monthly. “She kept screaming, ‘They killed my baby! They killed my baby!’” (Yes, we know, a fetus is not a baby, but this attack was awful and uncalled-for nonetheless.)
Fortunately, according to a GoFundMe set up by her husband, her unborn child appears to be OK.
That same day, in Seattle, a 9-year-old girl attended a peaceful protest against police brutality with her family. According to an onlooker, the demonstrators were doing nothing violent, but when one person pushed a sign at police, they responded by pushing back with force.
“The next thing you know, the little girl and others were running out screaming. They had been maced and that’s when I started filming,” Evan Hreha told Buzzfeed News of the video his friend posted to Twitter of the little girl screaming and crying as others poured milk on her face to relieve her pain.
In Long Beach, Calif., photographer Richard Grant captured a standoff between a man standing with his young daughter (who is wearing a Batman costume!) on his shoulders, as police officers in riot gear pointed a rubber bullet gun at him. Looking at this picture, which he posted to Twitter and Instagram, one gets a sick feeling that it was very possible for that situation to end badly.
View this post on Instagram
Update for the caption: A man stands with his child in front of police during demonstrations Sunday in downtown Long Beach. Police pointed rubber bullet guns to get crowds to back away. This man stood with his child most of the time until the police started using concussive grenades but they never fired on him but did occasionally pointed their rubber bullet guns towards him #longbeachprotest #blm #georgefloyd #protest #longbeach #blacklivesmatter
“This man stood with his child most of the time until the police started using concussive grenades, but they never fired on him but did occasionally [point] their rubber bullet guns towards him,” Grant wrote.
In all of these cities, officials have said that the incidents are under investigation. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley tearfully apologized in a news conference on Monday.
That is not what we set out to do as a police department,” he said, according to the Statesman. “That was not what we set out to do this weekend.”
At this point, we’re going to need more than words to show that’s true.
This country was built on protests, as these children’s history books teach us.