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Report: DC Police Officer Shamed Breastfeeding Mother in Public

Photograph via iStock.

A Washington breastfeeding education and advocacy organization says “it’s ridiculous” that a DC Police Department officer on patrol would try to shame a nursing mother, an incident which was included in a new report about complaints of inappropriate behavior by city cops.

report on language and conduct filed Monday by the city’s Police Complaints Board—a five-member panel that reviews DC cops’ conduct—had logged the encounter. The report includes 945 complaints filed between January 2012 and last June, including 639 that “expressed concerns about the subject officer’s demeanor or tone during the interaction.”

In this particular incident, which is undated, an officer was accused of saying “ewww” toward a nursing mother and telling her to “take that in the corner or the bathroom.”

The officer’s approach would seem to fly in the face of a 2007 District statute, which makes it unlawful to prevent a mother from breastfeeding her child in any public or private location. Violations can be punished with fines of up to $10,000 for first offenses, or as much as $50,000 for repeated incidents.

“Under the law it’s totally legal for mothers to breastfeed their babies anywhere they want to, and certainly police officers should not be shaming them for doing so,” says Gina Caruso, the deputy director of the Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington. “But it’s still a stigma in our society, and it needs to change. They’re supposed to be enforcing and upholding the law rather than undercutting it.”

Caruso says she is unaware of other examples of police officers shaming nursing mothers, but that it is still a relatively common occurrence in venues that use non-law-enforcement security.

“We hear about it occasionally from museums and courthouses,” she says. “It’s from people who are misinformed about the law. For some reason it’s not normalized.”

The Police Complaints Board’s document also suggests that comments like the unnamed officer’s breastfeeding line go against internal rules. DC Police officers are expected to be “courteous and orderly in their dealings with the public,” as the report quotes the department’s own guidelines. “Moreover, improper language or conduct can quickly escalate an otherwise minor situation, sometimes to the point of requiring force.”

The breastfeeding-shaming detailed here at least appears to be an isolated incident. The Police Complaints Board’s report also lays out several instances of officers flinging expletives at civilians. A driver pulled over was told to “cut the bullshit” after telling an officer she could not find her driver’s license. In a separate incident, an officer spotted banged on the driver’s window of a car stopped at a red light and yelled “put the fucking phone down” at the driver.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.