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Black woman sues police union over misleading Facebook photo of toddler son

A Black woman who was pulled from her car and beaten by Philadelphia police during a protest last year is suing a police union for posting what she calls a misleading photo of her “terrified” toddler on social media, attorneys for the woman said.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union, posted a Facebook photo of Rickia Young’s then 2-year-old son in a police officer’s arms last October claiming the child had been lost and wandering around aimlessly. However, police had actually taken the boy after officers smashed out Young’s car windows with the child inside, dragged Young from the vehicle and beat her, according to Young’s attorneys. She hadn’t broken any laws.

“I will never forget what those officers did to us that night,” Young said at a recent news conference. “For them to portray me as this type of mom who wouldn’t know or care where her child was while chaos was happening all around is very hurtful. All to promote a political message of fear of Black people and civil protesters.” 

“Our physical injuries may heal,” she added, “but the pain of seeing those images of my son in the arms of an officer and that horrible caption written to describe that picture may never heal.”

Young is seeking more than $50,000 in damages in the suit, as her attorneys said she endured harassment, anxiety, depression and a damaged reputation as a result of the social media post. 

The National Fraternal Order of Police made a misleading claim on Facebook last year about a child being lost protests in Philadelphia. (via Facebook)
The National Fraternal Order of Police made a misleading claim on Facebook last year about a child being lost protests in Philadelphia. (via Facebook)

Young filed the lawsuit on Sept. 9, just days before it was announced that the city of Philadelphia had agreed to settle an earlier lawsuit stemming from the attack and would pay her $2 million. Additionally, after an investigation, two officers were fired and more than a dozen others were awaiting disciplinary action, according to The New York Times

Officials with the police union did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Young’s latest complaint accuses the police union of posting an “intentional lie” to “promote its propaganda.”

The now-deleted post read: “This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness. The only thing this Philadelphia Police Officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child. We are not your enemy. We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy.”

The post was shared at least 700 times.

Attorneys hold that the photo presented a misleading version of the night’s events, and quickly became social media fodder as tensions rose after police officers responding to a 911 call fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man.

Young, a nursing aide, was driving early on Oct. 27 to pick up a family friend when she accidentally drove into a crowd of protesters. She tried to drive away and make a three-point turn when police stopped her.

The complaint accused the police union of portraying Young’s son as a “neglected and abandoned child” in order to “promote its own political propaganda” of police as the child’s savior and defenders of order. The union’s social media followers were outraged and demanded authorities take Young’s child from her, according to the complaint. 

“This was a picture of a white female police officer holding this Black boy. It’s not lost on us the symbolism that they tried to highlight with that post, as if she was the savior of that Black child and the only one who could save him,” said Riley H. Ross III, a lawyer representing Young. “The fact that the child was only in that police officer’s arms because of what the police themselves did to his mother and him makes that post all the more despicable.”

Another attorney for Young, Kevin Mincey, said during the news conference that the police union intentionally shared the photo on social media just days before the presidential election to ramp up political support for the organization.

Ross said in a press release that the lawsuit against the union is “the next step in keeping our promise to hold all parties accountable for the damage done to Ms. Young’s reputation by false reports and photographs that were published immediately following the attack.”

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