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Calls grow for police to have more understanding, consideration of struggling children in Syracuse

This screenshot of bodycam footage shows an officer holding the boy by the hood of his jacket and the bags of chips.
Syracuse Police
This screenshot of bodycam footage shows an officer holding the boy by the hood of his jacket and the bags of chips. Some are suggesting officers use a different approach with children.

The interaction between Syracuse Police officers and a troubled 8-year-old boy is exposing the deeper challenges facing Black youth in the city that might require a different response. Officers have had multiple run-ins with the boy in recent weeks that culminated last week with a north side store owner calling 911 over a stolen bag of chips. A bystander video of the incident went viral, but police body cam footage offered more context. Senior organizer with the Central New York chapter of the NYCLU David Rufus says officers should have been more sensitive and aware of the child’s situation.

"If a police officer can clearly say I've had an interaction with this young person, then already, there should be a different response. There should be a response that takes some consideration, a response that takes some kind thoughts, and a response that says we need to make sure we get him to the right place the right way, not fueling, but helping it."

Rufus says the boy might not have been so distressed if police had handled previous interactions from a child’s perspective, and in a less hostile and intimidating way.

"Let's not grab the child and take him to adult mode, especially if it's not a life and death situation and it's a situation you're familiar with. Don't be tired of doing it. Think about how you might do it better this time. "

Common Council President Helen Hudson says police grabbing a boy or anyone by roughly the hood of a jacket probably won't get the best response.

"You snatch me by the collar like that, and you'd have a fight out of me. We don't know what will trigger somebody. We have to be more conscious of how we're handling people."

Hudson says police and the community at large need to have a better understanding of the struggles facing families.

"There is trauma in these homes, in these streets, and even in the schools. Everybody here knows it. Let's talk about the trauma and how we can work to fix that. I keep saying Syracuse is not a huge city, and we all know each other. So if we all know each other, why can't we figure out a way to address some of these problems."

Police officials have said the father works two jobs, and the mother is sick. Police have made referrals to county social services, but the father has refused to cooperate.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at