OFFICIAL RESPONSE TO ONGOING TRAGEDY IN FERGUSON, MISSOURI (Release Date 8/26/2014)
The history and legacy of racism and institutionalized oppression in the United States of America evokes serious questions regarding racial profiling, discrimination, and the genocide of people who share an ancestry that is African in origin. The murders of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell coupled with the attempted murder of Howard University graduate Mya Aaten-White are symptomatic of an institutional pathology entrenched in American society. The names of our children, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers who have been harmed by violence stoked by this history and legacy are too numerous to recount here, but we hold their lives in sacred reverence even when their country attempts to deny their humanity. Over the past two weeks, we have seen that the death of another unarmed teenager has again ripped open a wound across this nation, and the flames continue to be fanned by the shooting of two additional young people. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of these youth and to the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri.
Media Mis-handling of this Tragedy
The predominate manner in which Michael Brown’s killing is being handled in the media and the nation as a whole is indicative of the systematic racism that African Americans experience on a daily basis. The impact of stereotyping leading to racial profiling by police officers is well documented. Drs. Phillip Atiba Goff, Lori Guevara, Jennifer Eberhardt, Joshua Correll, and others utilize scientific methodologies to demonstrate implicit bias with regard to police behavior, perceptions of guilt, and sentencing. In fact, Sylvia Wynter’s work in the 1990’s outlined a history of police officers describing interactions with African American males as occurring with N.H.I (no humans involved).
Despite scientific evidence regarding entrenched police bias, large-scale media outlets fail to publicly acknowledge this information. However, these entities readily publicize sensational material without context, and in so doing, contribute to the criminalization of Michael Brown and those who are protesting the lack of accountability and transparency for his killing. In the aftermath of this tragedy, we have witnessed the utilization of stereotypes that pathologize African American males. Researchers have shown that this behavior dehumanizes the victim, justifies institutional systems of inequity and overt police brutality, and builds group cohesion among those who seek to excuse the lack of accountability for the killing of an unarmed child. Naturally, this leads one to ask whether Michael Brown would still be living had he been a white male. There is enough scientific evidence to support the conclusion that ethnicity is always a factor in interactions with law enforcement.
Evidence Noting Increased Police Violence Towards African American Boys
Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff noted in his research that African American boys are often viewed as older than their chronological age. Correll and his colleagues note that police are more likely to view African American males as dangerous and holding weapons despite being unarmed. These perceptions based on implicit racial bias lead to unbalanced beliefs regarding guilt and increased police violence towards young African American boys. The fact that we have science to support the concrete existence of racial profiling and discrimination has done little to hold police departments and communities accountable for this ongoing violence. Further, it has not eradicated an ongoing dehumanization of Black lives by institutions sworn to protect all its citizens.
The events occurring in Ferguson, Missouri are a clarion call to police departments across this nation to heed the science of addressing implicit bias to protect African Americans from the lethal consequences of racism and prejudice. We mandate that law enforcement raise awareness of the very real presence of bias based on race/ethnicity and other marginalized identities, as well as the damaging effects it has on thinking and behavior. We also demand investment in and implementation of initial and ongoing knowledge-based and experiential training for law enforcement on specific strategies that can mitigate bias. Further, Dr. Melva Robinson notes that community policing should be instituted to ensure that officers live-in and are accountable to the areas they serve. The current structure of the Ferguson Police Department (95% white) and community (67% black) suggests that policing in something that is done TO the community of Ferguson instead of WITH them; which in this manner leads to systemic abuses of power and significant threats to the overall community wellbeing.
Threats to Community Wellbeing
As healers, it is incumbent that we speak truth to power. We are committed to the healing of our community as we have suffered tremendously from systemic violence due to enslavement, Jim Crow, and resistance towards our equity. This continued assault has substantial ramifications for the wellbeing of our community. Dr. Shawn Utsey has researched the impact of stress resulting from ongoing experiences with racism that African Americans encounter. His work suggests that living under the constant threat of racism leads to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. Furthermore, the families of those shot, protestors experiencing violence at the hands of the police, and witnesses of this tragedy are at risk for chronic mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, Acute Stress Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Assessment of Child Murders and their Supporters
When people of African ancestry are killed without recourse in America, we define it as state- sponsored terrorism. These our sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are citizens of the United States, who should be subject to the same rights and protections as all others. When we state that people who kill children without remorse possess anti-social personality characteristics, we do not make such an assessment indiscriminately. Individuals who seek to justify the actions of the police by dehumanizing our youth are demonstrating significant psychopathology.
Recommendations for Change
As psychologists of African ancestry, we are dedicated to the physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being of our people. We are behavioral scientists embedded in our community, and our recommendations for change are induced from our lived and academic experiences. If the United States is truly committed to being a democracy, it must address the long-standing investment in institutionalized racism that still justifies the murder of children due to the color of their skin. People of African ancestry in Ferguson and across the nation are suffering greatly from the murders of two young people and the attempt to end the life of another. Immediate action is needed by the leadership of this nation and the state of Missouri to prevent further psychological distress among all those experiencing this tragedy.
We expect the Obama Administration, the Nixon Administration of Missouri, and the United States Justice Department to ensure that justice prevails in the murder of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell and the attempted murder of Mya Aaten-White. We call upon the Obama Administration and the Federal government to address the legacy of state-supported oppression through the allocation of funds to address the mental health crisis resulting from the continued assault against our youth. We call upon African Americans to continuously speak truth to power, by pointing out acts of racism and discrimination against our people. African Americans have long been the social conscience and transformative agents of change in this nation. Thus, we will continue to demand equitable treatment under the laws of our country. We will continue to speak intelligently, valiantly, and courageously against injustice that happens to our people. Finally, as healers, we reaffirm our commitment to serving our people and to continue the struggle for justice and ultimately, our recognized humanity.
About the Metro Atlanta Association of Black Psychologists (MAABPsi):
The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) was founded in 1968, by over 200 psychologists concerned about the psychological impact of racial injustices perpetuated against the African American community. The Metro-Atlanta chapter (MAABPsi) was formed in 1978. The organization strives to impact the mental health of the local community by providing programs, services, training, and advocacy. To learn more about the Metro Atlanta Association of Black Psychologists, please contact the chapter at info@ maabpsi.org , 404.913.3144, or visit www.maabpsi.org. To learn more about the initiatives of the national organization, visit www.abpsi.org or call 301-449-3082.
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