Disturbing images and videos from a protest in Seattle over the weekend purported to show a young girl in distress after she was allegedly maced by an officer.
While the Seattle Police Department would not confirm the identity of the officer, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they’ve launched an investigation into the incident, which allegedly occurred as hundreds of people took to the streets to protest racism and excessive use of force after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“Uses of force, including pepper spray, during the demonstrations will undergo a high level of scrutiny and review by the chain of command,” said Kelsey Nyland of the police department’s Joint Information Center. “This incident in particular has been referred to the [Office of Police Accountability] and an investigation has commenced.”
When first reached, a public information officer told BuzzFeed News they had received a high volume of reports regarding the use of mace by officers during Saturday’s demonstrations.
On Saturday, a video re-uploaded by Twitter user @julesstores — and with the child’s face blocked out — quickly went viral with a wave of shock and outrage online. It showed the girl crying and screaming as a crowd of adults swarmed to pour milk and water on her face. (Warning: the footage is distressing.)
The Twitter user, Julián Torres, who’s from Mexico, told BuzzFeed News he instinctively recorded the video, and a few minutes later, he noticed it was pulled down.
“After I got it on my laptop, I refreshed … and the video for sure was already taken down within the first 5 minutes. Some people said that they took it down because it showed the little girl’s face,” Torres said. He added that he was certain he had seen the original video from someone who was there on the scene.
Torres also said the original caption identified the child as “a 9-year-old.”
Other images of the scene soon began circulating on Twitter. Despite it showing the nearby officer who allegedly maced the young girl had his badge number taped over, people online quickly matched his name to active officers within the Seattle Police Department.
Torres and others are also calling on people to file complaints with the department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
The Seattle Police Department confirmed that they’ve received a high volume of complaints and that they “will investigate” any other images or videos of the incident, “including body camera footage for any of the officers in the vicinity,” a spokesperson said.
“As the mayor made clear during today’s press conference, all uses of force by SPD officers will be investigated accordingly, and officers will be held accountable for inappropriate uses of force. Retaining and building community trust that SPD and partners have worked tirelessly to improve is absolutely paramount,” the spokesperson added.
When asked about the suspected identity of the officer and his status at the department, the spokesperson said the city will not comment on active investigations.
Online, the disturbing images of the child caused uproar and a demand for answers. Many said the images prove the excessive force and brutality of protest policing.
Some critics, however, argued that a parent should not have brought their young child to a contentious protest.
But others quickly retorted, saying a child should have their right to a peaceful demonstration, and to not protest in fear of police.