Updated: Mar 11
by Dr. Daniel Hollar, PhD in Clinical Psychology In a viral video of a 14-year-old who was handcuffed by police as they broke up a fight at a New Jersey mall, police are seen responding to the fight between the two teens but after breaking up the fight, police only tackled, restrained and handcuffed Kye, who is Black. The other teen (who is not Black) was allowed to sit on a couch watching as both police officers put their knees on Kye's back. Given the frequency of unnecessary killings of Black men, women and children by police in the United States and the lack of accountability that often follows, it is not hard to observe that many Black people are at risk for developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to police violence. Victims of police violence may become hypervigilant when police are around. PTSD is also a factor among officers as trauma, violence and poor mental health issues are inherent to policing. An inadequate understanding of the interaction between these two trauma-prone groups may lead to increased conflict that places members of these two groups in a vicious cycle of violence related to trauma. But more on that later… PBS.org reported that Dr. Monica Williams, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, stated, "There's a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when you feel like you can't trust the people who've been put in charge to keep you safe. Instead, you see them killing people who look like you." According to Dr. Williams, this leads to race-based trauma unique to the African American/Black experience. Dr. Williams went on to explain how graphic videos of violence (i.e., vicarious trauma) viewed by individuals who have experienced racism can create severe psychological problems akin to symptoms found in post-traumatic stress disorder. In simple terms, PTSD is a type of severe anxiety disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. The condition may last months or years, with triggers (i.e., a stimulus such as a sight, sound, touch or location) that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by emotional and physical reactions (such as intense fear, difficulty breathing, racing heart, sweaty palms, headache, nausea, etc). The occurrence of these physical symptoms in the presence of a stimulus are known as an acute stress response and can make the individual feel as though they are reliving a past traumatic event or are in the midst of an existential crisis. In response to this acute stress, the body goes on autopilot and the sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones, including adrenaline, that tell the brain what to do. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to flee or fight. This is known as the flight or fight response and is an automatic physiological reaction to an event or trigger that is perceived as stressful or frightening. In Psych 101 we learn the body is hardwired to respond to triggers or perceived threats via one of two ways: 1. avoidance of the stimulus through fleeing (i.e., taking flight; running away) or 2. engaging the stimulus in a struggle resulting in a physical confrontation (i.e., a fight). That being said, it is not hard to imagine that the trauma inflicted upon individuals who belong to communities plagued with brutality from its officers can and will lead to increased vigilance on the part of the citizenry. This is easily understood though the connections are often unrecognized by mental health, forensic and other professionals in authority who speak on issues regarding police brutality in the Black community. Though often ignored it is important to discuss because there may be an interaction between two hypervigilant groups which, if left unaddressed, will continue to leave us spinning our wheels when it comes to addressing the problems presented by policing in the Black community (which usually focus on distal issues like training, cultural competency and community relations but not proximal issues like conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques which require emotional and mental fitness on the part of the officer). Next week, PART II will discuss why Black people are more likely to be the victims of trauma related to police violence.
Daniel L. Hollar, Ph.D. Assistant Professor/Department Chair Department of Psychology College of Nursing and Health Sciences Bethune-Cookman University 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd. Lemerand Nursing Building, Rm L214 Daytona Beach, FL 32114 Office Phone: 386-481-2526 email: firstname.lastname@example.org My name is Duane C. Fernandez Sr. I'm Executive Producer of the documentary "Fighting For Justice" I have attached the link to this email. Feel free to share them.
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