MEE's Mental Wellness Research Uncovered the Depth of this Trauma
National media attention on recent events involving Black males and fatal confrontations with police officers have once again exposed the gulf between perception and reality when it comes to Black youth and their relationship to the criminal justice system. National media attention on recent events involving Black males and fatal confrontations with police officers have once again exposed the gulf between perception and reality when it comes to Black youth and their relationship to the criminal justice system. The killing of Trayvon Martin shined national attention on how stereotypes about young Black males put them in danger. Even "armed" only with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles, Black teens can be considered "suspicious" or up to no good. This summer, protestors have taken to the streets to voice their outrage about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both of whom were unarmed. There is rage and frustration not just about these incidents, but about countless other ways that Black boys and men are profiled as "menaces to society" and harassed by those who are supposed to be protecting our streets. Persistent (and often unbalanced) reporting about homicides and gun and gang violence contributes to profiling.
What is the long-term effect of feeling like you are living life in the crosshairs? Dealing with police officers can cause constant stress for young Black men, even if they are "doing what you're supposed to do." Interactions with the police were cited as stressful in MEE's 2009 qualitative research on mental wellness in the African community. "You can be chillin' and you come up as someone's target," a focus group participant told us. In the Moving Beyond Survival Mode report, you can read and see the stories that starkly illustrate the stress of living with negative stereotyping. Young people have told MEE that police "mess with" the wrong people and that even innocent residents can be targeted by "crooked cops who take the law into their own hands." That is a stress that is too often not recognized nor understood by the rest of the world.
View a clip of young people discussing one of their top stressors, police harassment, click here.
Photo: Ferguson, MO courtesy of www.policestateusa.com.