Cincinnati police officer Kevin Brown’s decision to fire a Taser at an 11-year-old girl suspected of shoplifting from a grocery store in August immediately drew criticism from city officials and advocates.
But Ohio state Representative John Becker had a different take. Had it been his daughter, he announced in an August newsletter, “I’d be ashamed and embarrassed that she did something stupid enough to get herself tased.”
Becker’s remarks appeared in his newsletter “Beckerisms” weeks after the Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley apologized for the officer’s actions and the county prosecutor said the girl would not face charges. An internal review released this month found that the officer had violated multiple rules; a departmental hearing is pending.
Becker also addressed police shootings in his newsletter. If his child were shot by police, he wrote, “rather than blaming the cop, I’d be blaming myself and endlessly soul searching to figure out how I failed as a parent and why my kid grew up to be a punk.” He added, “Based on the evidence of what I see on television, it often times appears to me that justice was delivered to the dead punk.”
When he tased the girl on Aug. 6, Brown was working off-duty as a security guard at a Kroger market. Police say he believed the girl was shoplifting. (A report stated that the girl had stolen items, including a backpack, candy, and baby clothes totaling $53.81.) Brown fired his taser from about 10 feet away, striking her body just below her waist.
Body camera video includes Brown telling the girl, after he tased her, “Sweetheart, the last thing I want to do is tase you like that. When I say stop, you stop. You know you’re caught, just stop. That hurt my heart to do that to you. Then I got to listen to all these idiots out here in the parking lot, telling me about how I was wrong for tasing you.”
Later, also captured on video, the girl cries as EMTs remove the taser barbs from her skin. Police Chief Eliot Isaac has said Officer Brown’s use of the Taser was “unnecessary in this circumstance.”
Tasers are often billed as “less lethal” weapons,” though Tasers can kill. A 2017 Reuters study found 1,005 cases of fatal stun gun use by police, nearly all since the early 2000s, with “more than 150 autopsy reports citing Tasers as a cause or contributor to deaths.”
When The Appeal asked Representative Becker if it’s appropriate for police to use potentially deadly force against children, he replied via email, “Children? Are we talking about 5-year-olds or 17-year-old armed gang members? It obviously depends on the age of the ‘child’ and the circumstances involved.” When The Appeal pointed out that the child in this case was 11, Becker responded, “She was simply tased for resisting arrest.”
Becker also told The Appeal that if police tase a child, “it could be an indication of a parenting problem.” He added, “If I were to do research, I would expect to find that kids that come from two parent in-tact [sic] supportive families are less likely to get in trouble with the authorities than kids that came from tougher environments.”
But his response elides well-established research on disparities in policing. According to the Sentencing Project, Black youth are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for property offenses than white youth. In schools, Black girls are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than white girls, according to a Georgetown Law School study. One reason for the disparity, based on an analysis of Department of Education data, may be because Black children are more likely to encounter school-based police.
“I don’t know to what degree, if any, racial disparities are a factor,” Becker told The Appeal. ““I don’t doubt that [Officer Brown] would have tased a white 11-year-old shoplifter under the same circumstances.”
Becker calls himself “pro-gun,” and earlier this year, he introduced a bill to permit teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools. In November, Becker will face a Democratic challenger, Patricia Lawrence, for his seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. Lawrence spoke out against Becker’s newsletter comments on police shootings. “Every American has a right to a fair trial and due process under the law,” she said in a statement. “John Becker’s comments show not only a lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution, but a lack of respect for human life.”