Recent events that have transpired have caused me to do much reflection. We as a nation have found out three separate individuals in three separate cities have lost their lives at the hands of the police or vigilantes. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was chased by armed white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood. He was shot and killed on Feb 23, 2020. It wasn’t until the video of his death was uploaded on the internet that went viral ignited a public cry for the killers to be arrested and charged for murder. His killers (Gregory McMichael, and his son Travis McMichael) were arrested and charged on Thursday May 7, 2020 . On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove who entered her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, while serving a “no-knock warrant”. Taylor was shot eight times. Although there is a wrongful death suit, there have been no arrests of the officers. The latest was George Floyd who died May 25, 2020, in Powderhorn, a neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was arrested by police for allegedly passing on a counterfeit $20 bill at a local grocery store called Cup Foods. Four officers arrived to the scene where an officer named Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd for approximately 8 mins. He died later at a hospital he was taken to by ambulance. Derek Chauvin was arrested 5 days later and charged with third degree murder.
These deaths have sparked national outcrys and we are seeing people taking to the streets screaming “Black Lives Matter” and the like. We are also seeing fires, looting, and all the adverse behaviors because of the lack of social justice Black Americans especially Freedmen have yet to experience. Breonna Taylor, Amaud Abrey, and George Floyd are not the only Black Americans that have lost their lives. There are other names. So many other names and the list keeps getting longer.
It is obvious to see the physical implications of Black Americans disproportionately losing their lives to these events, not alone of the pandemic at large. In a 2018 article A Critical Analysis of the Shootings of Unarmed African Americans by Police: A Social Work Perspective by Senneca Davis, she writes, “Whites in the US is 63.7%, African Americans 12.6%, 16.3% Hispanic (U.S.Census Bureau, 2011). As can be seen from these numbers, African Americans are overrepresented in these fatality statistics by at least a margin of 2:1. Whereas hispanic representation is near to population levels at around 16-17%. Moreover, it has been found that unarmed African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to be shot than their unarmed White counterparts (Mapping Police Violence, 2015). Also, African Americans who are armed but do not pose an imminent threat towards the police are more likely to be killed than Whites, Hispanics, and Asians (Mapping Police Violence, 2015). The numbers bare out what the following theoretical analysis unpacks: historical and socio-cultural factors result in social injustice for African Americans apropos their experiences with the use of deadly force and police.” She later writes, “Issues of racial inequality, oppression and discrimination have persisted as social problems in the United States since the use of slavery as a means of production, nation building and social control. Severe inequality is accepted in U.S. culture and the legacy of slavery, without a doubt, affects cultural conceptions of African Americans today.”
What about the mental implications at large? I know when I saw George Floyd’s life slipping away despite his pleas, I felt a flood of emotions. Anger, sadness, and helplessness were what befell me to the point I wanted to tear off my skin. I know I am not the only one.
In a 2018 article in the New York Times, Police Killings Have Harmed Mental Health in Black Communities, Study Finds states, “Having seen something so horrific and traumatic that happened to someone else, I’m reminded in a very painful and salient way that the deck might be stacked against me,” Atheendar S. Venkataramani, one of the study’s authors, said of how black people might perceive police killings. “It’s really about all the kinds of insidious ways that structural racism can make people sick.”
Structural racism has made Black America (Freedmen) sick to its core. In a 2016 article The Link Between Experiences of Racism and Stress and Anxiety for Black Americans: A Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Coping Approach, The authors listed their findings on oppressive experiences:
- Experiences of racism have significant negative effects on both physical and mental health outcomes for Black Americans
- The anxiety, anger, sadness, etc. that arises is an understandable reaction during and in the wake of these painful experiences of racism
- There are three specific ways we think experiences of racism negatively impact stress and anxiety for Black Americans:
- perceptions of lack of control,
- internalization, and
- avoidance of valued action
This is where we are. We are in a place where our frustrations have boiled over to where people are taking to the streets but being torn up from the inside out. Black is cracking and it is difficult to get others to care.
All of this is systematic and representative of a long-festering problem that has never been addressed and so we must make a fundamental alteration to the paradigm rather than feel bad about it for the moment and then get back to life as it was. The best fundamental alteration I can think of would be reparations to the descendants of slavery. This would address the problem in the following ways such as closing the racial wealth gap, restoring business and educational infrastructures in the Black communities, creating equal protections for Black citizens under the law, and finally tear down the institutions of Slavery and Jim Crow that have plagued our group for generations.
You need to contact your Congressman, from the State and Federal level. You need to contact your mayors and governors and express your support for these policies to fix what America has broken. Please note that America was built on the backs of Slaves. America would not be an economic superpower without Slavery. That wound has never been healed and is a festering infection.
Our ancestor Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer has summed up these times we are in eriely clear.
Cynthia McDonald – Social Worker – Reparationist