Trauma, on top of trauma: Police violence takes increasing toll on black mental health

Protesters gather in downtown Charlottesville. PC: Eze Amos Protesters gather in downtown Charlottesville. PC: Eze Amos

C-VILLE requested a statement on Katrina Turner’s allegations from the Charlottesville Police Department on Tuesday morning, and CPD responded with a statement from Chief RaShall Brackney shortly after C-VILLE went to press. The statement has been attached.

When Myra Anderson saw the video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ultimately killing him, she could not help but play it in her head over and over again. Now, she almost wishes she had never watched it.

“It just hurt me to my heart,” says Anderson, who is a black mental health advocate and peer support specialist. “There’s no way you can’t be affected by seeing somebody that looks your same skin color on TV, that’s not armed, and doesn’t appear to be doing anything [be killed]. It’s traumatizing deep deep down…It carries the weight of all of the other historical injustices and trauma that happened before.”

The violent murders of black people by police—and the recent extensive media coverage—has taken a toll on Anderson’s mental health, as it has for many African Americans across the nation. She’s felt a whole range of emotions, from anger to frustration to depression. It’s been difficult for her to stop crying, she says, or get some rest.

“This is a hard time for black mental health in general…It’s almost like we’re dealing with the pandemic of COVID-19, and on top of that, we’re dealing with a pandemic of racism. And both of them feel like they have us in a chokehold, unable to breathe,” says Anderson, who founded Brave Souls on Fire, a spoken word group that works to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Now, more than ever, Anderson wishes that Charlottesville had a black mental health center, which could provide a “safe and liberating space to process racial trauma” for all black residents. She is also disappointed in local politicians and organizations that have released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but have done little to reach out to the black community, and haven’t provided any type of free mental health care.

For Katrina Turner, a member of the initial Police Civilian Review Board, the trauma is personal. In 2016, her son, Timothy Porter, called 911, claiming his girlfriend attacked him. The officers “chose to arrest him,” Turner says. “While he was handcuffed, they threw him against the wall. One of the cops threw a set of keys, hitting him in the back of the head. When they took him to their car, they threw him up against the front [and side] of the car…I witnessed it all.”

Turner and her family filed a complaint against the officers, but she says nothing was done. (Police spokesman Tyler Hawn says the department completed an internal affairs investigation, but cannot release the results publicly.) Since then, Turner has continued to pursue the complaint while publicly taking a stand against police brutality in Charlottesville, and now says her “mental health” is “through the roof.”

“Something needs to be done,” she says. “It shouldn’t have taken us to witness that murder on TV for all of this to happen.”

While it’s not easy, Eboni Bugg, a licensed clinical social worker practicing in the Charlottesville area, encourages all black people to “rest and breathe,” and take the necessary steps to protect their mental health during this time.

Prayer or meditation are helpful rituals to have, as well as a healthy sleeping and eating schedule, says Bugg, who serves on the steering committee for the Central Virginia Clinicians of Color Network. It’s also important to take time off of social media, do activities you enjoy, and intentionally connect with family and friends.

Bugg encourages adults of color in need of professional help to call CVCCN’s free non-crisis emotional support line (218-0440), which is available every Wednesday evening. Clinicians provide callers with immediate, short-term assistance, including resources and referral services.

In addition, The Women’s Initiative’s Sister Circle program offers free mental health care and support groups for black women.

“[I] just let myself feel whatever that feeling is, and don’t have any guilt about it,” says Anderson, when asked how she’s taking care of herself. “If I’m upset, I’m going to be upset. If I’m sad, I’m going to be sad. And I’m going to allow myself the space to work through that, whatever that looks like.”

 Statement from CPD Chief RaShall Brackney:

It is unfortunate as the nation is on the cusp of bringing about transformational reforms in policing policies and practices, there is a local attempt to divert attention to a case that has been investigated, and reviewed by Internal Affairs, multiple City Mangers, and Chiefs of Police.

On June 17, 2016, Mr. Timothy Porter pled guilty to an assault and battery. Mr. Porter’s guilty plea stemmed from the events Ms. Turner references in her statement to the C’Ville Weekly.  It is also factually inaccurate, as Mr. Porters’ intake picture and subsequent arrests for violating protective orders depicts that he was “ bleeding and all scratched up.”

During my two-year tenure as the Chief of Police, the Charlottesville Police Department has fully embraced the pillars of 21st Century Policing, in an attempt to undue the legacy of institutional practices that were established by predecessors. We will continue to work collaboratively with this community to reimagine the role of policing as we strive towards “Service Beyond the Call.”

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