Tamekia Williams’ son still has nightmares from his encounter with Baton Rouge Police Department last year. The then 14-year-old was on the ground surrendering to officers when a police K9 bit deep into his leg.
“It tore tendons and muscles and to this day he still has numbness,” says Williams of the incident. “After that he was really overwhelmed. He didn’t want to eat and he thought someone was always out to get him.”
Williams and her son shared their harrowing experience at a virtual community forum held Thursday (September 3) to discuss police violence against children in East Baton Rouge, particularly law enforcement’s misuse of K9 units.
While neither the East Baton Rouge Police Department nor Sheriff’s Office have disclosed data on these incidents, juvenile public defenders have seen dozens of children with K9 bites – and the lasting physical and emotional damage they cause – in the past few years alone.
“Most children in the justice system have already experienced trauma, and then have the added trauma of being bitten by a K9,” said Lakita Leonard, an attorney with the East Baton Rouge Public Defender’s Office. “That accomplishes nothing when it comes to the purpose of the juvenile justice system, which is rehabilitation.”
According to Leonard, every child with a K9 wound has been Black, in part because of underlying racial disparities in the justice system, in part because of lax policies.
“K9 policies in Baton Rouge allow far too much discretion to use dogs as a weapon against children,” explained LSU professor Madalyn Wasilczuk. “The more discretion an officer has, the greater the possibility that they may enact racial bias, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
K9 policies were not included in the police reforms following the killing of Alton Sterling, in part because K9 attacks do not get the same attention as police shootings. That’s something community members are ready to change.
“Now’s the perfect time to get candidates to commit to transparency and to hold elected officials accountable,” community organizer Myra Richardson reminded the group.
Participants discussed getting the word out and pressuring city leaders to change K9 policies. Those who would like to join them can contact the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Coalition by visiting their website: www.ebrpprc.com