People Are Calling the Police Stop of 5 Boys Every Black Parent's 'Nightmare'

April 26th 2017

Ethan Simon

Community members in Grand Rapids, Michigan, expressed outrage over recent body camera footage showing a police officer holding five unarmed black children at gunpoint.

Though no one was hurt, the video has sparked a rekindled debate over the relationship between police and the community they serve, with MSNBC's Joy Reid even responding to the incident with a tweet calling it "every black parent and child's nightmare."

The five boys in the video were ages 12 to 14, and had just come from playing basketball at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, a recreational center in the community on March 24, according to KLTA 5. A witness allegedly called the police to report a fight in the area, claiming that one of the teens was armed.

The responding officers determined that these five boys matched the description — based partly on their clothes, and ordered the boys to the ground.



"Guys, get on the ground," said Officer Caleb Johnson in the video, and in response two of the boys got on the ground while three looked confused, and one seemed to move to the far side of a tree, away from the gun.

"Hey, come over here. Keep your hands where I can see them and get on the ground," said Johnson. The confusion between the commands "come over here" and "get on the ground" seemingly prompted one of the boys to stand up. "Get on the ground," Johnson said.

Black Lives Matter Protest

While none of the boys were hurt, the experience was likely traumatizing. "I ain't tryna go to juvie, I got a basketball game tomorrow," said one child.

"I do not want to die, bro," shouted another one of the boys, while another started to cry loudly. "Just follow our directions and we’ll be alright, OK?” Johnson responded.

The officers got the boys to walk backwards towards the squad cars with their hands on their heads, one by one. Their search turned up no weapons.

Later, the body camera footage showed an officer speaking to a woman who appeared to be a parent of one of the boys. "I'm sorry. I don't mean no disrespect, but y'all got to understand," she said. "That's my baby right there."

Grand Rapids

A City Commission meeting was held to discuss the incident, with the mothers of the five boys standing up before the Commission to speak out about the incident. "We can't stop thinking of the fact that - what if one of our babies had made the wrong move?" said Shawndryka Moore, whose 14-year-old son was involved, "And they wouldn't be here with us tonight - would you be OK? Would it be proper protocol then?"

We can't stop thinking of the fact that - what if one of our babies had made the wrong move?

But Grand Rapids Police Department defended their actions.

The Grand Rapids Police Department empathized with the children and their mothers — and Police Chief David Rahinsky offered an apology on behalf of the department. "The officers didn't do anything wrong. They acted on articulate facts from a witness moments earlier who said he saw them hand a gun to each other. I think when the community sees what we've seen - with the body worn camera footage; I think they'll have a different opinion. I respect their emotion. I think what we're hearing is a lot of grief and frustration to systemic issues," said Rahinsky to MLive.

Black Lives Matter Protest

The video reveals two troubling details about policing in America.

A full third of American households own guns, and there's a gun for every man, woman, and child in this country. The sad truth is that, in a gun-saturated America, police have to act accordingly. While the thought of an armed 12 year old might sound ludicrous, it happens a lot.

There's also the reality that blacks are two-and-half times more likely to be killed by police than whites. This could be due to a variety of factors, like implicit bias, or overpolicing. But the fact remains: black Americans are at a much higher risk of dying at the hands of police than other groups.

It's a conversation that black parents across America have with their kids every day.