The parents of a seven-year-old child who was allegedly sprayed with mace by police at a peaceful protest in Seattle have spoken out about the traumatising incident.
Footage of the protest that showed the boy screaming in pain while protesters attempt to help by using a milk-like substance to wash the child’s eyes went viral online at the beginning of June.
The video also shows protesters confronting the officers allegedly involved in spraying the child and asking for their badge numbers. One officer allegedly refused to give the protesters his badge number.
Mando Avery, the father of the seven-year-old, told The Guardian that he and his son had just finished praying with members of their church as part of a peaceful anti-racism protest when a police officer fired mace at the group which hit his son in the face.
When asked by the newspaper what he would say to police about the alleged incident he said: “I would say that you were targeting my boy.”
“I don’t know if you were trying to set an example and strike fear into him. You did a great job,” Mr Avery said.
The boy’s father also claimed that officers and a group of emergency medical technicians standing about a block away did not try to assist his son.
“No officer, who’s paid to protect, chose to stand up, break the ranks, go help this child,” he told the outlet.
“I just don’t understand how any of them can sleep.”
The child’s name is being withheld to protect his privacy.
The Guardian contacted the Seattle police department for comment, and was referred to the city’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), which said it was expediting its investigation into the incident.
The OPA reportedly said the “child pepper spray case” was “currently being investigated. We should have a public update on the progress soon.”
The department reported at least 12,000 complaints, of which a majority were related to Mr Avery’s son, the newspaper reported.
Protesters who witnessed the scene and posted the video had previously called on people to file complaints with the department.
Shenelle Williams, the boy’s mother, told the newspaper that hearing her son’s scream was the “most gut-wrenching feeling”.
“I kind of feel like a failure as well,” she said, “because I feel like I couldn’t protect him, but there was nothing that we could do at that time to prevent it.”
The Seattle Police Department recently banned the use of tear gas at protests for 30 days.
Warning: The video below contains footage that some viewers may find distressing.
The family have received some criticism online about bringing their young child to the protests, but said that when they arrived they had seen other families and young children, saying that it had initially felt “completely safe”.
“We just wanted to stand up for what was right,” Mr Avery said. “Ultimately our boys will become men and our daughters will become women. And they will ultimately have to face some of the same racial injustices. And enough is enough. Black lives matter,” he told The Guardian.
According to the newspaper, the family is working with a lawyer before deciding on the next steps going forward.
Evan Hreha, the 34-year-old hairstylist who filmed the footage of the alleged incident, told the newspaper that he confronted the officer he believed had maced the boy and said that he would post the video online.
Mr Hreha, said he was later arrested by police a week after posting the footage, with police alleging that he had pointed a laser in an officer’s eye.
There are currently no pending charges against Mr Hreha and no sign of any “documentation with any narrative about the incident that allegedly justified his arrest”, his lawyer, Talitha Hazelton said.
Mr Hreha, who is white, was reported to have been denied bail and held for two days. He told the newspaper that he believed his arrest was a response to him posting the footage online.
“It’s woken me up a bit,” he said. “It just kind of shattered that false narrative that was in my head that cops always protect and serve.”
The Guardian contacted the Seattle Police Department for comment, and was referred to the OPA, which said it did not know if a complaint had been received about Mr Hreha’s arrest.
Seattle Police Department referred a further request for comment to the city attorney, according to the report, which said the police department had not yet referred the case.
The Independent has contacted the Seattle Police Department for comment.