On September 15th, 2016, our Columbus community awoke to the news of another police involved shooting in our city. Our history with Jim Crow-ism relations with Law Enforcement Officers (L.E.O) in this city and across the nation, is not a new phenomenon for the Black and oppressed communities. However, this incidence became a catalyst for a more direct action in conversation. This incidence, similar to Tamir Rice in Cleveland, involved a 13 year old boy who, according to independent medical examination, was running away from law enforcement.
There are no words I am able to utilize, from a mother’s heart, and womb, that can convey the amount of pain, rage, and despair I feel personally, add observing and hearing the fear that my children and children of my community are experiencing. This young man was gunned down in our back yard, our neighborhood. It is an imprint that is now permanent within our children’s memory, forever a part of their growth and development.
The only voice I am able to find in this situation, in order to convey how deeply impactful Ty’re King’s death is, along with the shooting of Henry Green and the loss of MarShawn McCarrell due to the stress of life long institutional and overt racism, is the one that represents my professional experiences as a nurse, doula, and public health advocate.
In our traditions of oral history, we, as Black people, often speak of our cell remembrance, Sankofa, the memories of our Ancestors and history being passed down. Inside of Public Health, those ideas are now being “studied” for the purpose of developing the fields such as mental health, epigenetics, and neuroplasticity. Big words to describe what we have always known, what happens to one of us, affects all of us. The ripple effect caused by these continued incidences of trauma impact our everyday lives and continue to perpetuate a 400 year history of enslavement and oppression. To speak to how this is embedded in our overall development within society, would require a dissertation, but for this purpose, can be made in concise argument.
Stress due to institutional and overt racism tear a body down. Period. Research studies from Harvard, Yale, University of Illinois- Chicago and The Center for Disease Control, just to name a few, consistently discuss how the impact of Traumatic Stress leads to inflammatory processes and restructuring of neuro pathways in both children and adults. The result goes far beyond a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These stressors create the environments of the very health disparities our communities face at a dramatically disproportionate rate. In my field of focus, which is the infant mortality rate of Black infants, it has become increasing clear that I cannot even get to the conversation surrounding how to keep our babies alive to their first year, if they are simply going to be ripped from us later in life. To that note, how can I discuss life of a Black infant, when the very vessel it is carried in is impacted by the constant strain of stress due to racism over a life time? The idea that we, as a community, have children that are processing the death of a child by a person in a position of power over them, that they have little to no voice in how this should be address, let alone support in processing their own feelings, seems like a defeat before they have opportunity for the win. In academia, research conducted by scholars such as Deppermann, et al. (Neuroscience 283, 2014), to Umberson, et al. (Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 55, 2014), have published articles of “evidence” that point to Social Determinants of Health and the Structure that supports them as the primary cause of many health disparities, and yet, our city continues to utilize what we, as Public Health Professionals, know as Individual Health Behavior Models to address them. My question is this, if we have the evidence and supported case studies that say our health is NOT an individual responsibility, but an institutionalized one that takes into account race and class, why, as a City, are our policy makers and leaders not taking this seriously. Why are they so afraid to say racism as a cause, why are our LEO’s not be held accountable? To take it a step further, why are our city officials not acknowledging that PTSD is a real experience and diagnosis for many of our First Responders and addressing it? Plenty of research and implemented programs have yielded positive results in this area as well, as demonstrated by Arnetz, et al. (Journal of Police Crime and Psychology, 24, 2009) and McGregor (Journal of Urban Health, 93, 2015). If you have a circumstance that is going to cause a “trigger”, knowing that it will impact the “fight or flight” response, how is it that the only thing that makes one response excusable vs another, is carrying a badge? Think about that.
While, as a Black woman, my primary concern are my people and these babies, as a Public Health and Social Justice Advocate, I must objectively call into question all aspects of this system that allowed for a 13 year old boy to be murdered, as well as all of the other individuals of this country that continue to be harmed by the militarized police state. If we are to address the impact of trauma on a bio-physiological level, then we must address who is being given the power and who is continuing to be the victim of it.
Nothing I can say or do is going to bring back Ty’re, Henry, MarShawn, Tamir, Tamara, Sandra……..Nothing I can say or do is going to take away the countless number of Black and poor women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted by those who are charged with protecting and serving our communities, or change the memory of what is left that affects entire families, and generations, including my own on a very personal level. What I am able to do, is continue to speak this message by utilizing my opportunities in experience and education, to call out the system of oppression so firmly steeped within Western Medical Culture and Public Health, and to shine the light on the collective trauma that impacts not only those who are marginalized by it, but those who also benefit from it. These stories written about us, rather than by us, are the product of the continued denial of a structurally racist system that must be dismantled in order to be rebuilt in demands for equity, healing, and restoration.
To put it simply, as we have said many times, we are not broken, the system is.
We get to Heal. We will RISE.
Jessica M. Roach, LPN, MPH (c)
Public Health and Reproductive Justice Advocate
Trauma informed care and Restoration Facilitator