From Harlem to Hollywood the senseless murder of another unarmed Black man has once again ripped open the wounds of a nation. Treated as if we are simultaneously invisible while highly conspicuous, ignored when we are in need and profiled when we are simply proceeding. The attack on the lives of Black men like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Abner Louima and Oscar Grant serves as a reminder that Black lives in America are not valued. These not so uncommon instances of police extremism often shatter the trust between law enforcement and the people they are meant to protect. It is Black Pain that is simmering under the surface of this allegedly color blind and post-racist country, it is Black Pain that inspires protests for justice, and it is Black Pain that police in Ferguson are attempting to detain and mask. Treating our fellow Americans as anything less than human, undermines the principles we fought for as a nation during the civil rights era.
We’ve seen this over and over again, where police brutality, directed primarily toward Black men, often renders the community, collectively and individually, into an extreme state of shock…it effects our men, our women and our children. According to Dr. Dawn M. Porter, a Board Certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist, the trauma that can result from these repeated experiences can lend itself to the development of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which all too often goes unnamed and untreated. An inability to deal with the stress of witnessing blatant injustice of this magnitude, can cause people to act out of unresolved trauma and erupt in rage and anger often in response to a complete sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Whether you witnessed the murder of Michael Brown, saw the sketches of his bullet riddled body or listened to the circumstances surrounding his death (his body was left in the streets for 4 hours and then shuttled away in an SUV-an ambulance was never called), we have all been deeply scarred by the unnecessary death of this young man and others like him.
The extraordinary events taken place in the past week have re-opened many wounds and has raised a lot of questions. Are we valued in our own communities? What do we do and where do we go with the pain we are experiencing? How do we begin to heal as a people, as a community, and finally as a nation from such trauma?
The reality is, it is impossible to experience a trauma of this nature and go about our daily lives as if we didn’t just witness and experience the pain of watching the death of another unarmed brother go thus far unpunished. As you begin to deal with your reaction to this tragedy, use the strategies I provided two years ago in EBONY.com when Trayvon Martin was killed.
Seek Help: Consider reaching out to a professional counselor or therapist to help you process what you feel. There is no shame in getting help. I find that therapy is the gift that keeps on giving. It helps me to clarify my thoughts and process heartbreaking situations like this. Counseling can be a necessary lifeline. We cannot be or breathe properly if we don’t release the unresolved pain, wounds, scars and trauma of our childhoods. We cannot be all that God has called us to be. The trauma of racism is accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder for many and a great, hidden sense of pain for most.
Redefine “Strength”: We often confuse being “strong” with being silent. True strength lies in knowing when to ask for help, when to let the tears flow, when you are overwhelmed. The death of Michael Brown is one that has taken a great toll on our collective psyches… no time for silence. Be strong enough to be proactive in healing your heart as you work to seek justice.
Shake a Hand, Make a Friend: Make eye contact with someone passing by, smile and say “hello”… you may be the first person who made such a gesture towards them today. Many of us are walking around in need of love, support and communion with our fellow man and tragedies make that even more critical.
Fight the Power: Channel your rage and anguish over the verdict effectively and get involved with local/national efforts to fight for justice for Michael Brown. Participating in rallies/protests will allow you to connect with others who are feeling the same way as you, but don’t stop there. If you aren’t already, get politically engaged! Hold politicians accountable and help your friends/family do the same.
Say “I Love You”: Tomorrow is never promised and there are grieving family members who will never have the chance to put arms around their beloved son again. In the midst of our anguish over the loss of a young man most of us never met, we must remember to show love to the people in our lives right now, while we can.
I encourage everyone to read my book, Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting, to fully understand ourselves as a community.