Have you ever thought about how much police brutality affects African Americans psychologically? Because of police brutality, most People of Color begin to develop PTSD, depression, and anxiety because of the traumatizing impact that police brutality has on us. We witness endless police atrocity and barbarity against our own people. Our own culture. Our own community. People that look like us.
In an instant, we can start to feel unnerved, debased, and demoralized. We start to feel insecure, inferior, beneath, not of value, like we don’t belong — like we are less than human. We are continuously being treated as if we were some sort of egregious or grotesque species, as if we were just savages or chunks of garbage. As if we’re just these malicious and nefarious individuals who deserve to be annihilated by police. As if those noxious consequences and repercussions were deserved in the first place — on account of the false conception they have toward the Black race.
The police already view us as a threat before we even speak or move. They already believe in their minds that we are going to start trouble, steal something, or cause harm. They automatically create this heinous perception of who we are as people. They act like we are just these barbarous beasts and goblins who only deserve to be tossed around like dirt or like a small scrap of paper.
We know what happens: we might possibly end up with a bullet inside of us, or beaten until we’re nearly demolished — our bones cracked and shattered, our heads slammed into the ground, our bodies with injuries we are not able to sustain, our bones popped out of place. Sprains, fractures, pulled muscles, torn bones, and twisted body parts…. Wounds, scars, rips, scrapes, and bruises…. Eventually, our bodies left barely responsive. And that’s if we’re not killed outright.
All resulting from a police officer assuming that we were either attempting to steal, trying to hide something, causing trouble, or perpetrating something dangerous. Or resulting from us supposedly looking intimidating, aggressive, or capable of doing harm. In fact, it could just be due to the fact that we walk a particular way, talk a specific way, or act a certain way. They can also blame it on what neighborhood we’re in, on how we dress, or on what color we may be wearing.
But to sum it up, for the most part, they only stop and approach us at all because of our melanated skin.
We can do all the right things. We can move slowly to put our hands on the steering wheel or up in the air to show we’re not a threat. But they will still think that we are about to pull out a weapon. We can look for our license and registration… when they ask. Still, somehow, they will assume that we’re about to try to make a move. Undoubtedly, if we drive a certain vehicle, they may believe that we have weapons or drugs inside, supposedly after taking just one glance at it. Without knowing if it’s true or not, their whole mind frame and way of thinking amongst People of Color makes them react and choose to do things in a deadly way.
They think about us as if we all are just a big gang of atrocious individuals. But if we try to disguise our skin, if we wear a hoodie or sunglasses, are they going to see us as suspicious or feel that we are trying to hide our identity? That we are up to something? We begin to wonder if we can bring a bag into the store — or even just put our hands in our pockets — without someone speculating the worst and causing us to have to come into contact with a police officer — which instantly puts our lives at risk. All because someone guessed and assumed.
Just imagine being pulled over by a cop. Having to think, is this going to be my last day? Am I going to be able to tell my family goodbye? Will I be remembered and known as the Black person who died at a young age by a police officer just because I wanted to go run some errands, or run to the coffee shop, or run to go pick up my child from school, or run to pick up my medicine from the pharmacy, or get my oil changed? Am I going to end up getting decimated by a police officer in broad daylight just because I wanted to have a yard sale, or walk my dog down the street, or take my trash out, or clean my car?
Sometimes we can’t even sit outside on our own porches without someone accusing us of being on someone else’s property. Can we ever drive an expensive car without someone believing we stole it? Can we pump our gas without someone else speculating that we stole someone else’s gas? Can we carry a purse or backpack when visiting a store without someone wanting to check it and look through it? Any of these things — anything at all — can make us have to come into contact with the police. Police who may assume the same things, since we are Black. Police who wouldn’t even hesitate to kill us right then and there, even though their assumptions and speculations may not be correct at all.
All of this affects African Americans psychologically and can create PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem. All of it is a huge weight upon us.
Black people aged 18 to 29 who encounter police violence experience an increase in anger, depression, and hypervigilance,” said Motley, who studies the interplay between racism, violence, and trauma among emerging adults. “Their self-esteem often drops,” he said, “and unwanted thoughts sometimes pop into their heads without warning. When something reminds them of the brutality, they might start to sweat or have trouble breathing. Their heart might start to pound.
This goes to show how much police brutality — even being reminded of police brutality — affects us. The bc.edu website also says: “When Black Americans encounter police violence, high anxiety often follows.” Police violence interferes with the mental health of People of Color.
Imagine if you were in my position. Many times, I have sat back and thought about how to accept reality and the world for what it is. I would develop thoughts like: Will I end up with a knee on my neck for multiple minutes until I suffocate like George Floyd did? Is a police officer going to come and raid my apartment complex and shoot me like they did Breonna Taylor?
I would start to question my worth — question who I am as a person. What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I good enough? Should I be lighter? Should I have been made white? Am I a disgrace? Should I be ashamed of myself? Why am I immediately a target just because I have brown skin? Why do they hate us so much? Would it be better if we were all just erased from society? Why do I get called n*gger and n*gga? Why do I get called monkey or gorilla? Why do I see white people painting their faces black with big red lipstick trying to pretend they have black faces? Why do white cops call black men ‘Boy’ in a harsh way in order to make them feel less than and less of a man? Why do people ask me if I could go pick their cotton? Why do people tell me to go back to Africa? Would the world accept me If I just ripped my skin off, peeled it and picked at it? Why do I walk in a store with mainly white people and they gasp for air and pretend to puke? Why did back in the day Black people end up being lynched and hung by the Klu Klux Klan? Why did they keep Black people as slaves, put them in chains, and whip them?
Am I a monster? Am I a bad person? Am I better off dead? Should I make my lips smaller and my nose smaller so that I could look less Black? Why do they treat us like dogs? Should I straighten my hair every day so it could look less kinky and nappy? Why did god curse me and doom me with this skin color? Should I bleach it to make it lighter?
It’s not safe to do outside activities and games. For example, by me just deciding to do fun things like play four square, play freeze tag, or play-fight with my white friends, a karen could possibly assume I’m physically assaulting them or doing something else wrong and call the cops on me.
We live in a country that’s supposed to be great. But we steadily have to experience racial hatred, racial profiling, and racial harassment through police brutality. Just accidentally running a stop light, or parking in the wrong place could mean getting pulled over by a cop. Or say we didn’t have our seatbelt on, or went over the speed limit, or forgot to take the crosswalk instead of the street when crossing... we shouldn’t have to feel that by us making one of those simple little mistakes, or that because we’re being pulled over or stopped by a cop, that our death may come early.
When we turn on the news we see people that are the same color as us, like Stephon Clark that ended up getting shot more than 20 times because a police officer speculated that he was holding a gun when he was only holding his phone. Like Andre Hill, who emerged from a garage holding a cell phone in his left hand and was shot and handcuffed, then left lying on the ground for five minutes and eleven seconds until he was pronounced dead. Like Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot and killed through her home window after her neighbor had reported that Atatiana had left her front door open. Like Botham Jean, who was shot in his own apartment because an off-duty police officer thought the apartment that Botham was in was hers and that Botham was an intruder. Like Tamir Rice. Like Michael Brown. Like Rayshard Brooks. Like Alton Sterling. Like Philando Castile. Like Akai Gurley. Like SO MANY Black individuals being eradicated by police officers — for playing with a toy gun in a park, for walking with a friend, for accidentally falling asleep in their vehicle in a fast-food drive-up, for standing in their grandmother’s backyard, for sitting on their sofa at home eating ice cream, for selling CDs and DVDs, for walking down the stairs in the building they lived in… and, of course, for being pulled over in a traffic stop.
We watch Black activists and Black protesters who fight to be heard and try to put police brutality to an end but end up getting treated like guinea pigs. Poisonous gas put in their eyes, tasers being put to use, shields ramming into them, being aggressively beaten with police batons, police dogs biting and ripping into their flesh, and pepper spray damaging their vision.
We also see great Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, who fought against police brutality but ended up getting arrested, punished, portrayed as monsters, talked down to, seen as antagonists and villains, their names constantly being tarnished, and their voices silenced by police officers.
We read about Rodney King and watch him getting beat by white cops, his face bruised, swollen, and busted. All over his body are rips, swells, and bruises. All we can do is cry. You hear Rodney’s screams, his yells, his whimpering, and his sobs. You see blood leaking out of his body. This just by itself would give any African American high anxiety, depression, dissociation, and low self-esteem. Dealing with all this on a daily basis can lead to PTSD, suicidal thoughts, anger, hypervigilance, unwanted thoughts that pop in our heads without warning, and so much trauma. When we’re reminded of police brutality, we begin to sweat, have trouble breathing, and hard pounding within our hearts. We are not okay.
But I say all this to say: We must put an end to police brutality. It creates mental health issues we don’t need that could be problematic in our everyday lives. As things stand now, we can’t lead normal lives. Every decision we make is affected by police brutality. We have to question every single thing we do or say.
We must change the police culture in a variety of ways for the betterment of the Black community:
- Officers can be required to de-escalate before using force.
- Officers can be required to use guidelines defining the types of force that can be used to respond to a specific situation.
- We can restrict or ban chokeholds and strangleholds.
- Officers can be required to give a verbal warning before using deadly force.
- We can prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles except in extreme circumstances.
- We can require officers to exhaust other options before resorting to deadly force.
- We can establish that officers have a duty to intervene if one of their colleagues is using excessive force.
- We can require that officers report all uses of force or attempted uses of force.
It’s frustrating that this is necessary. Police officers could literally just choose not to think the worst when it comes to Black people. They could just choose not to overreact when it comes to People of Color. They could just choose not to beat us, kill us, racially harass us, racially profile us, accuse us, and insult us when we come into contact with them. It’s not rocket science or a math equation. They could treat us like we are equal to and not less than or beneath. They could just treat us like humans. Like they’re supposed to. Because if they don’t, more Black people will end up dying and beat half to death. Which has, will, and is affecting African Americans psychologically.
Anyla is a student at Walla Walla High School. She aspires to become a poet, short story writer, and essayist speaking about racism against Black people, current world problems, and hot topics. When she writes, she does it with purpose and passion. Anyla feels destined to touch others with her words and wants to be known as someone who takes a stand and impacts lives with her writing.