Posted on June 1, 2023

The Toll of Police Violence on Black People’s Mental Health

Patia Braithwaite and Tiffanie Graham, New York Times, May 25, 2023

When a Black person is killed by the police, Karsonya Wise Whitehead watches the footage, even though it causes her physical pain. Derrick Benson reviews the details of new cases to try to understand what might have happened to his brother, who was killed in police custody. Marisa Renee Lee describes learning about an instance of police violence as being akin to getting “punched in the face in a place where you’ve already been hit.”

Three years have passed since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. But while the widespread protests against police violence in the United States have quieted, the pain Black people experience when a police officer injures or kills a Black person persists. Black people in America are killed by the police at three times the rate of their white counterparts. And the number of deaths has remained consistent from year to year.

Victims and their families, as well as bystanders, are often psychologically scarred by these events. But there is evidence that the millions of Black people indirectly exposed to police violence are affected, too. In a 2021 study, researchers examined emergency room data from hospitals across five states, finding a correlation between police killings of unarmed Black people and a rise in depression-related E.R. visits among Black people.

{snip} . The New York Times dispatched reporters in more than 20 U.S. cities to interview 110 Black people, across generations and socioeconomic groups, about how acts of police violence affect them. The Times also commissioned Morning Consult, a polling company, to survey Black adults in the United States about what they feel, and how they cope, when they learn that a police officer has hurt or killed a Black person.

While more than half of respondents reported feeling ongoing sadness, anger and fear about police violence, the survey also found that Black people feel more safe than unsafe when they see a police officer. {snip}

Many people The Times interviewed shared personal experiences of excessive force and harassment by the police; others talked about well-known cases — like those of Rodney King and Eric Garner — from years ago.



of Black adults say it’s harder to get through daily tasks after learning that officers have harmed a Black person.

Morning Consult survey of Black adults, April 2023


Restaurant server, Alton, Ill.

“If I get pulled over now, I know exactly what’s going to happen. I’m going to have an anxiety attack,” said Jamal Jones, 23. About two years ago, as he was driving out of a parking lot, a police officer arrived and Jones had trouble breathing. The woman he was with grabbed his hand to help calm him, he said.



of Black people said they feel anxious when they see an officer.

Morning Consult survey of Black adults, April 2023


Founder and executive director, Word is Bond, Portland, Ore.

“We’re in a constant trauma combustion chamber, and you have to build systems and practices to deal with it. And how I do that is building networks with my friends — groups of friends that are Black men — we can go do things and hang out, physical things like walking, weight lifting, exercise and talking through things.”



Hip Hop Artist and director, One Lexington, Lexington, Ky.

“When I’m driving and my 6-year-old daughter sees a police officer and says, ‘Oh, Daddy, the police is going to get us. They going to arrest us,’ I’ve had to self check myself,” said Devine Camara, 42. “That’s how embedded that fear is into our community. Somehow I passed it on and I don’t even realize.”



of Black parents said police violence affects their mental health.

Morning Consult survey of Black adults, April 2023


Research scientist and clinician, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Columbia, Md.

“Watching the George Floyd video left me with a hot rage, which was unnerving to me because I am never an angry person. That rage lasted for a week and was so intense that I prayed to God to relieve me of it.”



Non-profit executive director, Chicago, Ill.

“I never slept better in my life as a parent than when he was in China,” said Angela Ford, the mother of a 34-year-old son who lived overseas for 10 years. “When he came back, he and I agreed that he wouldn’t own a car. I could not take the stress of him possibly being murdered. I couldn’t take it.”



discussed police violence with a mental health care professional. Slightly more spoke with a religious leader.

Morning Consult survey of Black adults, April 2023


of Black adults say their ability to cope has stayed the same or gotten worse over time.

Morning Consult survey of Black adults, April 2023



Phlebotomist, Alton, Ill.

“I can’t watch the videos anymore. I hear about it, but I can never go and watch it,” Simeon Brown, 25, said. “It does too much on my mental health to even try to sit through a video.”

Part of the reason they affect him so deeply, he noted, is that when there’s a crime, officers are the first line of defense. “Now I’m afraid if I call, I may be a victim,” he said.