Criminal Justice

'She Could Have Been Hurt Worse': Police Union Defends Officer Who Pepper-Sprayed 9-Year-Old Girl

Public-sector unions often protect the government at the expense of the people.


The police union in Rochester, New York, is defending a group of cops who pepper-sprayed and handcuffed a nine-year-old girl on Friday.

"They were trying to get her into the car," said Mike Mazzeo, president of the Locust Club police union, at a press conference. The officer who pepper-sprayed the girl "made a decision there that he thought was the best action to take," Mazzeo declared. "It resulted in no injury to her. Had they had to go and push further and use more force, there's a good chance she could have been hurt worse. It's very difficult to get someone into the back of a police car like that."

In this case, that someone was a child—what's more, a child who wasn't suspected of committing any crime. Footage shows her screaming for her father as officers force her to the ground to cuff her. The police were reportedly responding to a family disturbance call, with Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson claiming that the child "indicated that she wanted to kill herself, and she wanted to kill her mom," according to The New York Times.

Prior to that, she can be seen running down the street away from an officer on the scene.

He eventually caught up. "You're not gonna run away from me, OK?" the officer says. "Because I'm gonna have to chase you, OK? And I got, like, six other cars coming to chase you."

"I'm scared," the girl replies as she cries. The officer ultimately delivered on his promise, with the video footage showing at least six squad cars and seven cops, all to detain a nine-year-old.

The union's reaction shouldn't be particularly surprising. Public-sector unions exist to protect their members at all costs. That is, after all, the purpose of a union. Those of the public-sector variety have the advantage of monopoly control.

"Public-sector unions exert a disproportionate amount of effort defending their worst members—not just the ones whose performance is subpar but the ones who are actively malign," notes Peter Suderman in the March Reason. "Unions show their unwavering dedication to protecting their members' jobs by making sure it's very difficult—sometimes nearly impossible—to fire a union member, no matter what that person has done. It's not the easy cases where the unions demonstrate the strength of their commitment; it's the hard ones."

In other words, behavior that shocks the conscience can embolden such groups to carry on the fight. A similar dynamic is underway with teachers unions, many of which have doubled down inflexibly on refusing to return to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Opposition to public-sector unions has swelled over the last year, with the left denouncing police unions and the right denouncing teachers unions. If only both sides realized how close they were to figuring out the bigger picture.