WASHINGTON – A year-on after African American citizen George Floyd was brutally murdered in a racially charged White cop aggression in the US, the trauma still lingers for the community.
Video and report of George Floyd’s death went viral, sparking months of outrage, racial justice protests, and calls for an end to police brutality in the US and elsewhere.
Images of white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin fatally pinning a handcuffed Floyd on the street for more than 9 minutes with a knee to his neck are etched in the minds of millions of people, particularly those in the Black community.
“For me it’s been painful and traumatic,” Shelia Holden of Maryland told the Voice Of America. She recalled her disbelief watching Floyd’s final moments on social media in May 2020 and hearing him repeatedly tell Chauvin, “I can’t breathe.”
“Seeing one person take the life of another is something I had never seen,” the African American mother of two said.
The video became a key piece of evidence in the criminal prosecution of the former police officer, who was found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter last month after a three-week nationally televised trial.
Darnella Frazier, 17, captured the images with her cell phone camera, upending a nation already reeling from a pandemic.
IMAGE OF GEORGE FLOYD WHILE BEING MURDERED BY A WHITE COP IN MINNEAPOLIS (IMAGE VIA VOA).
Frazier testified during the trial that she is still haunted by what happened. “I look at George Floyd, I look at my father, I look at my brothers because they’re all black,” Frazier explained. “I consider the possibility that it was one of them.”
“It’s been heartbreaking seeing the video so many times over the last year,” said Bruce Brandon, a retired bus driver in Washington. Brandon said his family couldn’t stay home after seeing the Floyd video and joined the Black Lives Matter protests last year.
“Our family suffered a lot of anxiety but taking part in the racial justice demonstrations gave us an outlet to express our outrage over the amount of police brutality against African Americans.”
U.S. President Joe Biden called the verdict “a step forward” while recognizing the injustice the Black community has suffered.
It was a daylight murder that ripped the blinders off for the entire world to see the systemic racism that is a stain on America’s soul, Biden said.
For black Americans, it was a knee to the neck of justice. The anguish and exhaustion that Black and brown Americans face on a daily basis.
MURAL OF GEORGE FLOYD ON THE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH THAT INVOKED THE WHOLE WORLD ON A ‘BLACK LIVES’ MATTER MOVEMENT (IMAGE COURTESY OF PEE-WEE HERMAN VIA TWITTER)
Searching for answers
The George Floyd video reopened excruciating wounds for Black families who’ve also lost loved ones after deadly encounters with police.
“Every time another killing happens, it’s trauma,” said Allissa Findley, whose 26-year-old brother, Botham Jean, was fatally shot in his apartment in 2018 after a white off-duty Dallas police officer said she mistakenly entered his apartment, thinking it was hers and believed Jean to be a burglar.
A jury convicted Amber Guyger of murder and a judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison. Police body camera video captured the scene after the deadly encounter.
“After seeing what happened to Botham and to George Floyd, it’s just traumatizing all over again,” Findley told Reuters.
Some believe the anguish inflicted by police brutality videos is compounded when Blacks are repeatedly asked to share their feelings about the incidents – including by the news media.
“That can add to the trauma because you’re reliving seeing those images,” said Mary Frances Winters, president of the Winters Group, a diversity, and inclusion consulting firm. “We recommend people of color affected by this more severely set boundaries.”
WATCH: Police reform legislation yet to be passed
In a book titled “Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit,” Winters sees racism as triggering a public health crisis.
“Black people are experiencing microaggression and being tokenized, and then you compound it with all the things that are happening externally. It leads to psychological and physiological ailments,” she told VOA.
Trauma and the generational impact
Researchers from the National Academy of Sciences in the United States discovered that violent acts that are widely publicized and perceived as anti-Black may have a negative impact on the mental health of observers, particularly Black Americans.
In the weeks following two incidents of anti-Black violence or when the national interest in those events was higher, Blacks reported poorer mental health than whites, according to the study.
Leaders in the African American community acknowledge that a year after George Floyd’s death, there is still a lot of anger.
In a recent interview with CNN, Pastor Jamal Bryant of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta said, “I think all of Black America is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“To have to relive what happened in that video has been like a high-tech lynching.”
According to clinical psychologist Joy DeGruy, today’s social injustices exacerbate the impact of centuries of unresolved trauma.
She claims that “toxic stress trauma” experienced by parents can have long-term effects on their children’s psyches, behavior, and possibly even DNA.
At a recent forum on her research, DeGruy said, “Fear mutates into all kinds of things.”
Some experts are calling for a national focus on improving the mental health of African-Americans, saying that the effort should start with acknowledging that people do not simply recover from deep-seated collective trauma.
“We have to challenge that idea that we just have to be resilient,” said Winters. “We have to begin to change the system, but we also need to prioritize our well-being in the midst of all of this.”