Study Analyzes Impact of Police Shootings on Mental Health of Blacks and Whites
I watched the cell phone video of unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II being shot three times by a Pittsburgh-area police officer as he fled a car on foot on June 19. A model student and community volunteer, Rose lost his life at a local hospital shortly thereafter. His crime? Running from the police while Black in America.
He was never pursued. He never produced a weapon or posed any apparent threat or committed a crime that we know of. He was shot from behind while running away from the cops. And he lost his life for it, as have so many others.
God knows I didn’t want to watch that video. But as a Christian Black woman married to an amazing Black man with two beautiful Black boys, I don’t have the liberty of turning a blind eye, not when Blacks are three times more likely than White Americans to be killed by the police even though we make up less than a quarter of America’s population. Make no mistake, Black men especially are perceived as a threat in this country, even when they’re not carrying weapons.
Every month it’s a different name, a different face, a different hashtag, and more tears.
This time was no different.
I sobbed into the steering wheel of my car after dropping the boys off at school and daycare. All my plans for the day were now ruined as images of my boys older, scared, and running flashed through my mind. I grieved for the loss of Rose as though he was my own son. I cried for his mother like she was a close friend. I wept bitterly as I had for others before him, knowing that many would turn this into a question of why he ran, and why he was in that car and why he didn’t surrender to police, without ever extending that same level of judgement, scrutiny, and underlying responsibility to the police officer who pulled the trigger. Rose was guilty, they would think, even if he was not.
As the tears flowed, I silently wondered, how much more of this can one person take?
I knew I could not console myself with the thought that justice would be served. Most likely it would not this side of heaven, and the thought alone was unbearable.
I did all I knew to do. I cried. I prayed. I sought comfort from God’s Word. And then I wondered how many others around the country were also crying today, weeping for the kind of injustice and wrongdoing that God Himself says He hates in Isaiah 61:8.
It was this question that prompted my Google search on the mental health burden of police shootings on Black Americans. What does it do to Black people to watch video and hear audio of our brothers and sisters dying day after day at the hands of the police without consequence?
The Mental Health Burden of Police Shootings
I chanced upon an article about a new study titled “Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of Black Americans,” released June 21 in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal. The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, researched the self-reported mental health of Blacks and Whites in the three-month period following police shootings of unarmed citizens in their respective states. The study was confined to residents in the states where the shootings occurred, and was conducted using available data from the Centers for Disease Control’s annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Blacks reported worse mental health following police shootings of unarmed Black men, which resulted in an additional 1.7 days of poor mental health per year—on par with the mental health load of a person with diabetes. The article also suggested there may have been a connection between Blacks’ mental health following police shootings of unarmed Whites, which could not be statistically validated.
On the other side of the race line, however, the data was disheartening. Whites reported no mental health impacts following police shootings of unarmed Black men, neither did they experience mental health trauma following the shooting of unarmed White people.
The question begs to be asked: do Whites even care?
For years, Blacks have been trying to bring awareness to police injustice, and White America has largely rolled its eyes and turned its back. How could White Americans see the same events I was seeing on the news day in and day out and sleep soundly at night? How could they watch Black men and women who pose no threat to police get shot week after week, and not be affected like I was?
The argument of ignorance simply didn’t fit, not since the studies were conducted in the same states where the shootings occurred, and in the three months immediately following the shootings, when media coverage would presumably be continuous.
Neither did the race argument, since Whites felt no mental health burden for Blacks or their White counterparts—although I should qualify that the disproportionate number of police shootings of unarmed Blacks is very much about racial bias.
I am left to conclude there is some loyalty that I can’t see and don’t understand at play when it comes to law enforcement in our country. Data has shown that Whites are more trusting of law enforcement than any other racial group in America, but could it be that they’ve given police immunity from injustice altogether?
Could it be why police are rarely held accountable for shooting unarmed citizens, not by the police departments that employ them, not by the law, and not by the majority of White Americans? And should any system, group, or organization in America enjoy so great a level of unwavering trust and unquestioning devotion at the risk of injustice and even the death of its own citizens? These are the questions we must answer if we are to ever even begin having an honest discussion about the unchecked role of law enforcement in America.
Until all Americans recognize and weep over the injustices of our day, until police officers are held accountable to the law like every other person in America, and until Americans of the majority culture finally acknowledge the voice of the minority, there will be more hashtags, more mental health trauma in Black communities, and more tears.