On Thursday, the nation’s largest police union posted a photo to social media taken during the unrest in Philadelphia this week, where hundreds of protesters clashed with officers over the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. The Fraternal Order of Police’s posts showed a Philadelphia police officer holding a Black toddler clinging to her neck.
“This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness,” the union claimed in a tweet and Facebook post that have since been deleted. “The only thing this Philadelphia police officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child.”
But lawyers for the boy’s family say that story was a total fabrication.
In fact, they say police yanked the boy from the back seat of an SUV after busting all of the windows and violently arresting and injuring his mother, who was later released without charges.
“It’s propaganda,” attorney Riley H. Ross III told The Washington Post. “Using this kid in a way to say, ‘This kid was in danger and the police were only there to save him,’ when the police actually caused the danger. That little boy is terrified because of what the police did.”
Ross and colleague Kevin Mincey are representing the boy’s mother in a civil rights case stemming from the violent clash with police on the first night of protests in Philadelphia, which has had four straight nights of unrest after officers killed Wallace, 27, who was armed with a knife and whose family said was mentally ill.
Not long after midnight on Tuesday, Rickia Young, a 28-year-old home health aide, borrowed her sister’s car, put her 2-year-old son in the back seat and drove across town to West Philadelphia to pick up her teenage nephew from a friend’s house, Mincey said.
She was driving back to their home, hoping the purring car engine would lull her young son to sleep, when she turned onto Chestnut Street, where police and protesters had collided. She found herself unexpectedly driving toward a line of police officers who told her to turn around, Mincey said. The young mother tried to make a three-point turn when a swarm of Philadelphia officers surrounded the SUV, shattered its windows and pulled Young and her 16-year-old nephew from the car.
A now-viral video of the confrontation shows officers throw Young and the teenager to the ground and then grab the toddler from the back seat. The scene was captured by Aapril Rice, who watched it unfold from her rooftop and told the Philadelphia Inquirer that watching a police officer take the baby was “surreal” and “traumatic.”
Mincey said police temporarily detained Young, who had to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment before she could be processed at the police station because her head was bleeding and most of her left side had been badly bruised when police threw her to the ground. She and her son were separated for hours, he said.
“Her face was bloodied and she looked like she had been beaten by a bunch of people on the street,” he told The Post. “She is still in pain.”
Her nephew also suffered injuries in the confrontation, Mincey said, and Young’s son was hit in the head leaving a large bump on the toddler’s forehead.
Mincey said Young phoned her mother while in police custody and asked her to find the boy. The toddler’s grandmother managed to find him after several hours, the lawyer said, sitting in his car seat in the back of a police cruiser with two officers in the front seats. Glass from the SUV’s broken windows still lay in the child’s car seat, he said.
The Inquirer first reported about the Fraternal Order of Police’s social media posts on Thursday. The photos of the boy in the arms of a police officer came amid a torrent of posts from the union decrying the protests in Philadelphia and urging people to vote for President Trump to promote “law and order.”
“We are not your enemy,” the union said in the posts showing Young’s son. “We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy.”
After the Inquirer asked the union about the posts, it removed the photos and the claim that an officer had found the toddler wandering barefoot in the protests. The FOP did not return The Post’s request for comment on the posts.
The Philadelphia Police Department did not immediately return The Post’s request for comment on the incident involving Young and her family Thursday night, but the department told the Inquirer that its internal affairs unit had opened an investigation.
The sun had risen Tuesday morning before Young was finally reunited with her 2-year-old son. Police held Young for several hours, but eventually released her without charges, her lawyers said. The boy’s family then took him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where doctors treated him for the head injury and then released him.
The family’s lawyers said police have not yet told Young where to find the damaged SUV or the family’s belongings that were inside it, including her son’s hearing aids.
“She wasn’t out looting or out doing anything,” Mincey said. “She wasn’t even charged with a crime.”