By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist, CAMH
Published July 14, 2016
There has been a lot of media coverage lately from the U.S. about recent shootings and killing of Black men by police. Part of the discussion has moved to the frequency in which this violence occurs, the growing protests condemning these actions, and the killing of five police officers in Dallas at a peaceful protest.
This has been a very tense and stressful time for all involved, particularly the families of those directly impacted. Even though the issue of racism is a historic, systemic and ongoing issue, violence is never the answer.
Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Violence related to Trauma
As violence begets more violence, trauma ultimately ensues and this is something that should not be forgotten as an outcome of these events. A situation where people have been shot and killed is very a traumatic experience and can trickle down to those who are immersed in it through social media or news coverage.
Technically, according to the DSM-5 (which is the diagnostic manual used to classify mental disorders), individuals cannot develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) purely by repeatedly witnessing events via media coverage or videos unless it is in the line of their work. This is particularly common among police officers and other first responders.
However, it is important to recognize that constant exposure to violence can be overwhelmingly distressing for people. It can be even more distressing for those who have already directly experienced or witnessed trauma or violence in their lifetime and are now being re-exposed to more violence.
It is scary and intimidating for members of the Black community to constantly be hypervigilant, constantly looking around and constantly worrying about being a victim of unprovoked violence, especially by police. How is this being dealt with from both a community safety and a mental health perspective, given what we know could lead to increased anxiety, PTSD, depression and other possible mental health issues for those involved?
This is a question that needs to be addressed, and we may see a greater need for psychiatric interventions as these discussions and protests continue.
How do we resolve differences? Is there a way?
As a society, we cannot forget the fact that in both Canada and the U.S., race has been an issue for centuries. We cannot just pretend that it is in our past, or that it doesn’t exist today. We must find a way to settle differences to the point where violence is not the logical and first choice. We need to give thought to how to agree to disagree sometimes. We must learn to validate different perspectives to find solutions and work things out for the sake of creating a peaceful society and world. We need to think about how violence is impacting future generations. We cannot ignore our youth and children who are modeling violent behavior.
Is this all possible? Is this unrealistic or idealistic? We must do better. The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah summarized it well when he said, “you can be pro-cop and pro-black…that is what we should aim for.” Watch the video here.
We need to hear what people are saying, understand what they are advocating for, and find a way to protect human rights.