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« It’s almost paranoia, a paranoia that there is no safe place, » said Thomas Mayes, a 70-year-old pastor from Aurora, Colorado, reacting to police brutality against black people.
When police officers injure or kill someone, the psychological effects can extend beyond those directly involved. As video footage spreads, viewers can see themselves or loved ones reflected in the victim.
In a 2021 study on emergency room data from hospitals in five states, researchers found a correlation between police killings of unarmed blacks and an increase in the number of emergency room visits linked to depression among blacks. A Study 2018 found that Black people who were exposed to reports of police shootings in the states where they lived reported adverse mental health effects for up to three months after the shootings.
The research leads to a question: what is the personal impact behind these statistics?
To respond, The New York Times spoke to 110 people of color from different generations and socioeconomic groups in 20 American cities. My colleague and reporting partner Patia Braithwaite and I scoured the interviews, listening to people whose experiences ranged in intensity from numbness to panic attacks. Some people have said they don’t have the time or resources to deal with their emotions. Many weren’t sure how to process this unique set of repeating circumstances.
We also partnered with Morning Consult, a polling firm, to survey more than 1,500 Black Americans about whether exposure to police brutality had affected their lives or mental state.
The people included in our article, « The Toll of Police Violence on Black People’s Mental Health, » are only a small fraction of the many who have shared their stories.
This four-month reporting and editing process had an emotional impact on me and Patia. We pulled away when the stories began to take a heavy toll on us, but remained motivated to dive right back in afterwards. It was important for us to make sure that all participants were heard and received the attention they deserved, and for us it was important to provide a balanced report.
We have chosen to tell these stories using intimate portraits. This allows you to see who these words are coming from and hopefully interpret the world from their perspective, if only for a moment.
Black and white photographic illustrations by photographer Cornell Watson provide evocative representations of the statistics. People’s faces bring these vulnerable accounts to life and connect you to the human behind them.
The reality of police brutality is not new, so we wanted to focus on the emotional and psychological ripple effects of these incidents and explore how people who experience such effects cope with their lives.
We hope you have a deeper understanding of lasting impact beyond headlines and video images.
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