The following is an article written by one of our therapists, Wendy Upadhyay, Psy.D., who posted this on Facebook and it was getting lots of positive feedback and shares online, so she shared it with our clinic. This is a personal opinion piece based on her 20 some years as a trauma therapist.
Written May 28th, 2020
TRAUMATIC GRIEF ASSOCIATED WITH POLICE BRUTALITY
Last Tuesday morning I gave a 2-hour presentation on Traumatic and Complicated Grief and Loss to 7 psychology interns and staff. This was 9 hours before I heard about the murder of George Floyd in MN. I am a trauma psychologist.
Now bear with me here, as I know I am super charged up about this death. In my didactic seminar, I brought up examples of types of traumatic losses that are more complicated and difficult to heal from than usual losses. One of those examples was death by police brutality.
My timing was prescient.
I explained that when someone (usually a person of color) dies in a forceful, brutal, and callous way at the hands of police, there are many, many layers of loss:
1) Loss via homicide, which equals intentional, or at very minimum, preventable.
2) You have the very authority figures charged with protecting doing the harming --with alarming frequency (esp. POC, impoverished, LGBT, etc).
3) when it is a black or brown-skinned person, and this happens yet AGAIN, there is a negative and traumatic impact on an entire community, neighborhood, and racial/ethnic group.
4) The more violent the death, the harder it is to heal from.
5) The more public the death, the harder it is to heal from. Imagine the crime scene, the people showing up to interview witnesses at a time you want to be with the body of your loved one in a private setting.
6) These deaths disproportionately affect people in lower-income areas, meaning families and friends of the deceased may have little to no resources financially or legally with which to respond, to protest, to get justice after a murder.
7) With cell cameras, police cams, cameras of buildings in the area where such an incident occurs, MANY of these brutal murders have been recorded and shared millions of times on social media. As a human, I would think that that would send a message to start the training at the top of the police food chain, yet instead, I continue to see weekly outrages that look and feel eerily similar.
8) Imagine the family and loved ones of George Floyd being re-traumatized each time they open their FB newsfeed!
9) Most police officers aren't punished beyond a leave of absence or being fired. Most are not arrested and charged and sent to prison for a very long time. They are protected by a "good ole' white boys network" in place for over 100 years.
10) Systems of institutionalized racism and resulting discrimination allow for this to continue and this is not something POC can or need to fix. It has to be white people who are in positions of power and privilege to make these needed changes in how we interact with people who look or believe or feel differently from us.
11) Each successive traumatic and brutal and unnecessary police killing adds to all those that came before it, in terms of carrying a "trauma load".
12) Knowing the person who was killed or witnessing the murder will add it's own unique layer of trauma.
13) When one has no time to grieve the prior publically videotaped and shared death-by-police officer, they can respond in many ways: (numb, outraged, fearful, desensitized, fatalistic, oppositional, or proactive in racial justice issues).
14) If you are white, you can't put yourself in a POC's shoes and assume you'd have handled something differently because you don't live that life of chronic racism, discrimination, micro aggressions, being targeted in stores or in parks, etc. We white people are not allowed to judge the reactions of a POC. Period. So stop it.
15) Every mother of a black or biracial boy or teen or young man is living with fear when they send their babies out into this world where whites hold the power. Every single day.
16) Please view the looting behavior in light of what it actually represents. It stands for PAIN! It stands for all the above-noted layers of complex and complicated trauma and how it gets integrated and managed when it is overwhelming. It comes out of powerlessness, helplessness, and chronic trauma. Looting, fighting back, protesting is the surface-level symptom of the underlying societal illness called racism. No one is excusing the behavior of looters or those who harmed others at the protests. But, we can hold space for understanding why it happened.
17) White people need to talk with other white people about how to fix this sick and broken system, so that we ALL can be safe. Police brutality is one clear indicator that some lives appear to matter more than others.
18) We can and must do better whenever we have the opportunity to do so. Stand up for others who are oppressed, attend unity gatherings or online forums to listen, learn and find more ways to take action. Those with a voice and power are soooo needed right now.
An entire group of people is hurting and suffering beyond what is imaginable. Until we fix this for all, our black and brown brothers and sisters will continue to be emotionally and at times, physically enslaved (as in wrongly imprisoned, misidentified as a criminal, racially profiled, pulled over for no reason, feared for no reason, killed before they have a chance to manage whatever the charges are...etc.). And I didn't even get to the topic of historical trauma of slavery or how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting African Americans.
I give my permission and thanks for sharing this article.
Wendy S. Upadhyay, PsyD
Inner Dialogue in Daily Life: Contemporary Approaches to Personal and Professional Development in Psychotherapy. Charles Eigen, Editor; Harvey Honig, Chapter One, (2014). Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.