The Aftermath of Botham Jean’s Killing Shows Why We Need to Cope With the Community Trauma of Police Brutality

The mental health effects of police brutality on whole communities needs to be something we talk about and reckon with.

Demonstrators march around AT&T Stadium ahead of an NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants in protest of the recent killings of two black men by police, in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. Botham Jean and O'Shae Terry were fatally shot by police in North Texas earlier in the month. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Demonstrators march around AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, ahead of an NFL football game on Sept. 16, 2018, in protest of the recent killings of two black men by police. Botham Jean and O’Shae Terry were fatally shot by police in North Texas earlier in the month.

Photo: Brandon Wade/AP

2018 has been an absolute bloodbath, not just for black folk in America, but for people of color around the world. Yet President Donald Trump dominates the headlines and the overwhelming barrage of news about him makes it easy for us to miss all the bigoted atrocities around the world. But we must not let these stories slip by.

2018 has been one of the deadliest years ever measured for police brutality in the United States, but most of us couldn’t name three of those victims if somebody paid us. The injustices surrounding the brutality are as bad as they have ever been.

A breathtaking 12,800 migrant children are currently being detained by this federal government — which is a 400 percent increase from last year and the highest number recorded in modern American history.

A bomb that was designed, built, and sold by an American company killed at least 40 children on a school bus in Yemen. Every agency studying the bombing now admits that the bombing was a “mistake.” That single “mistake” killed more children than were killed on 9/11 or in the Oklahoma City bombing.

In one single day this past May, Israeli snipers shot and killed at least 60 Palestinian protesters. By the end of the week, snipers shot and killed at least 119 Palestinians — including a heroic volunteer medic named Razan Al-Najar.

I could go on. I could weigh in on the horrendous spike in hate crimes across this country. I could talk about the epidemic of white people calling the police on black people who are simply living their everyday lives. That list is long. I could talk about the staggering number of nonlethal incidents of police brutality and false arrests that really go unmeasured and underreported simply because nobody died.

There’s a lot happening. But what I want to illuminate today was something that I find increasingly jarring.

Earlier this summer, a groundbreaking study was released that determined that when an unarmed African-American was killed by police, it has a horrible, measurable impact on the mental health of African-Americans. This, of course, may seem obvious. Yet what I found jarring was that the study determined that those same deaths — or even the deaths of unarmed white people by American police — don’t have any measurable mental health impact on white people.

I unpacked this study at a recent event and I think the results stung some good-hearted white people in the audience. The report isn’t saying that you don’t care. It isn’t saying that you aren’t bothered. It’s saying that by in large these incidents come and go, and your mental health remains firmly intact nonetheless.

I saw this all week with my own eyes, as some of my best friends and I worked hard around the clock to fight for justice for 26-year-old Botham Jean, who was shot and killed in his own home by Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger.

My oldest daughter’s birthday was on Sunday. Mine is today. But all I have been thinking about is Botham Jean.

Spending as much time as I did on the case is part of what made this weekend particularly painful. My oldest daughter’s birthday was on Sunday. Mine is today. But all I have been thinking about is Botham Jean.

The same was true for scores of pastors and leaders and protesters who showed up to the Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday. They love sports as much as the next person. In fact, most of them grew up loving the Cowboys. Instead of going to a game — which many of them were already protesting because of the league has mistreated Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid — they showed up with mourners, hearses, and coffins to eulogize not only Botham Jean, but also 24-year-old O’Shae Terry, who was shot and killed by an Arlington, Texas, police officer on September 1.

Black Dallas is grieving. And the city government made it 100 times worse by pretending to care about what happened to Botham Jean. That bubble burst when the city publicly released the fact that some weed was found in Jean’s apartment just a few hours after his beautiful funeral service. It was a devastating blow to his family and to the entire community — which was already on edge.

While other people can easily pivot and move on from these shootings and go watch a good, old football game, we can’t. It hurts too much.

I don’t just see this in Dallas. I see it in every big city in the country. The police violence, the hate crimes, compounded with all of the other issues related to race and poverty in America. How do we react? All I know is that we have to somehow figure out how to tuck our present pain in.

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