As black girls fight with witnesses of police violence

It is originally published In the 19th

In May 2020, world attention turned to Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a police officer. After Floyd’s death came a summer of protests and, almost a year later, three convictions for Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who murdered Floyd.

Somewhere in the midst of all this chaos was Darnella Frazier, who was 17 when she captured Floyd’s latest pleas to help the camera – footage that would serve as primary evidence in the trial against Chauvin.

Frazier testified at the trial, sworn a few days after his 18th birthday with three other girls. She told the jury in an emotional testimony that she stopped the night “apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.”

This sense of responsibility is common for black girls, experts said.

BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, a licensed clinical psychologist and expert in racial trauma, said in many ways, Frazier’s thoughts are not a surprise.

“I think the expression is in our community very broadly,” Garrett-Akinsanya said. “And girls who experience these traumatic experiences, they don’t really have many places where they feel safe in the community or outside.”

For young Blacks, and black women and women in particular, the impacts on mental health of being a spectator of police violence are far-reaching. Mental health professionals have noted an increase in the severity of mental health conditions among women and black women who witness police violence, including through video. To address this, experts call for increased mental health professionals trained in the field of racial trauma and specific areas for black girls to heal.

In the long run, the effects of witnessing police violence can renew the brain.

Garrett-Akinsanya says that media exposure to the murder of Blacks by police can cause the body to camp in a sort of struggle or state of flight; it cannot really rest if the individual is continually traumatized. This sense of fear can be increased for black girls, who feel twice the tension of being a girl and being black, Garrett-Akinsanya said. Studies show that black men and women experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault, for example.

“The impact of trauma on brain development, on how we participate in thoughts, feelings and behaviors is very damaging,” he said. “The reason we can’t heal is because the trauma keeps coming.”

And that trauma is generational, Garrett-Akinsanya said. As a result, black girls have to deal with their trauma while also navigating the impacts on their mothers, aunts or grandmothers.

Such a dynamic can give rise to one who has a “negative sense of value”.

“When it comes to our black bodies as women, we internalize that lack of value and [that] it impacts our behavior, ”he said.

Maryam Jernigan – an expert in the mental health area of ​​black youth – says the side effects of the presence of police brutality can manifest as anything from physical numbness to depression and anxiety.

“The more you watch, the more you hear, the more you watch videos of violence against the individuals you identify with, it can decrease your sense of security and, frankly, influence your own sense of mental health,” he said. said Jernigan.

Black mental health experts call a system in which black girls are listened to and have the ability to express their complex emotions.

“Without replenishment, healing and recovery, there is just more of a propensity for damage to happen in the long run,” said Akua K. Boateng, a licensed psychologist and expert on racial trauma. “So we’re contrasting that by creating spaces for people to heal, for girls to have what has been removed from iniquity systems.”

Boateng said he noted a correlation between the increase in widespread content involving incidents of racial trauma – such as the Chauvin trial – and the physical reactions of pain to his clients. She also felt an increase in chest pain, body aches, insomnia and eating disorder after hearing stories of police violence against Blacks.

Creating healing spaces for black girls will take work, however, said Jernigan, who has trained thousands of mental health professionals in the field of racial trauma.

“Research actually shows that when you are silent on the realities of how race and racism present themselves in the lives of black girls, it’s actually to their detriment,” Jernigan said. “How you really cultivate and nurture an environment of inclusion, which is really intentional to understand systemic racism, as well as interpersonal racism.”

But it starts with the humanization of black girls and their experiences, Garrett-Akinsanya said, understanding their “mind, body and spirits.”

“The girls we raise and love, they need to dance to their sounds and their rhythms, their own power, their role models,” Garrett-Akinsanya said. “And they will succeed.”

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