But For The Grace Of God, Go I

“As long as I had my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me.  This is what I was thinking.  They’re not going to shoot me. Wow, was I wrong.”

-Charles Kinsey, Behavioral Health Therapist (from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg)

“’Sir, why did you shoot me?’ Kinsey recalled asking the officer.  ‘He said, ‘I don’t know.’”

-Charles Kinsey

 

“Our officers responded to the scene with that threat in mind.  I want to make it clear that: There was no gun recovered.”

-Gary Eugene,  North Miami Police Dept. Police Chief

 

Dear Dr. Kane:

Being arrested and harassed by the police has left me very distrustful of law enforcement.

I was pulled over recently in Gridley.  As the officer got out of his car, my thoughts raced: Did I log out at work?  Did I put my appointment in my calendar at the office so that my team will know where I was headed?  I am in the middle of nowhere.  Who will look for me if something happens?

I read your blog The Blues All Round: How We Heal recently, and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it.  I think that the black man’s experience with the police has left us with a deep, emotional trauma.  Is there such a thing as genetic PTSD?

-Alert & Alone, occupation mental health therapist.

P.S: I live in Oroville, CA., a small town.  Amazon hired more people last year in Seattle than populates my entire town.

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My Dear Readers,

If you can, imagine that what happened to Charles Kinsey happened to you, and was replayed constantly in your mind, never to be forgotten.  What would you see?

  • A black man lying on the ground with his arms up and his hand, palms open, pleading to the officer not to shoot him
  • Despite his pleadings and no sign of a weapon, he is shot in the leg anyway
  • After the shooting, he is handcuffed, bleeding from his injury for 20 minutes while waiting for EMTs to arrive
  • When he questions the officer as to why he shot him, the officer replies “I don’t know.”

The incident is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities. The country is in uproar.  There are demands from society that the police officer be held accountable, and indeed, during all of this, the police officer involved has been placed on administrative leave.

Following the shooting in North Miami, a video of police misconduct towards a black female motorist in Austin, Texas surfaced.  The video depicted the black motorist being body slammed into the concrete by the police officer, following a traffic stop for driving 15 mph over the speed limit.

The incident is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities. The country is in uproar.  There are demands from society that the police officer be held accountable, and indeed, that officer is now receiving “supervisory counseling.”

These incidents are not new, but the advent of technology and the ability to quickly capture and share video evidence of them results in these images being constantly imprinted in the hearts and minds of those who witness these scenes in the media.  The recent incidents of police brutality against African-Americans and the shootings of police officers across the country have left, at the minimum, two communities, African-Americans and law enforcement, in positions of suspicion, tension, hyper-vigilance and hyper-alertness.

In the Austin TX incident, a white police officer is videotaped telling the handcuffed teacher that:

“Police officers are wary of blacks because of their violent tendencies, and intimidating appearances.”

The officer goes further by adding,

“Ninety-nine percent of the time…it is the black community being violent.  That’s why a lot of white people are afraid… And I don’t blame them.”

In response, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo stated he found the video to be “disturbing.”  He added,

“For those that think life is perfect for people of color, I want you to listen to that conversation and tell me we don’t have issues of social issues in this nation.  Issues of bias.  Issues of racism.  Issues of people being looked at different because of their color.”

Racially influenced killings of blacks and police officers have created a society that is, with good reason, fearful of racial war and that wants the violence to stop.  This alarmed society wants police officers held accountable for bad conduct or negligent actions, but this is the same society that refuses to look at itself and take responsibility for the structural racism that has infected all levels of institutions and core values throughout this nation.

How can changes in societal attitudes impact the actions of law enforcement and its policies and procedures?

Utilizing the theoretical concept of RACE (responsibility, accountability, consequences and empowerment)

  • Responsibility– Cease blaming the police for taking actions that are being called upon by the suspicious and fearful society. Understand the police are only supporting the biases; projections of suspicions/ fears and hate that are infected in the society they are sworn to protect and serve.
  • Accountability– Cease assuming that punishing individual acts of police misconduct will resolve the national problem of police misconduct. Understand that society as a whole and not just the individual police officer must want to hold themselves accountable not only for change, but more importantly, for the transformation of policing in communities of color.
  • Consequences– Cease viewing this as punishment but rather as reactions or responses for actions taken (or not taken). Understand that society as a whole and the individual can benefit more from taking action, which is proactive and reflective of response rather than working from reactions based on fear and suspicion.
  • Empowerment- Cease living in fear. Understand fear is a necessary emotion.  Society must want to work towards living with the fear and not as it currently is now, living in fear (and suspicion) of others.

 

Concluding Words

As I write here, I am fully aware that what happened to Charles Kinsey could very well have happened to me.

Charles Kinsey is a behavioral therapist.  He was attempting to calm an autistic patient when he was shot.  Fear of Kinsey’s blackness and the perception that police officer had based on that blackness was the basis that led to his shooting.  His hands were up in a position of surrender.  He was never a threat…And still he was shot.

Is there such a thing as genetic PTSD?

No. However there is ingrained fear as one lives, waiting alertly and vigilant for the negative and possible life ending act to happen.  As black adults we do this.  The shooting into the vehicle of Philando Castile by a police officer with a four-year-old child in the back seat weighs heavily on my heart.  It is evident that our children and adolescents must are now forced to endure the same.

John Rivera, president, Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association is correct when he made the following assessment involving the North Miami police officer,

“Sometimes police officers make mistakes.  They are not computers.  They are not robots. They are God’s creation.”

Ms. Breaion King, the 26-year old black teacher in Austin who was body slammed into the concrete by the police officer stated:

“I have become fearful to live my life.  I would rather stay at home.  I’ve become fearful of the people who are supposed to protect and take care of me.”

A fine point that is often forgotten is that the black citizens who the police are sworn to protect and serve are God’s creation as well.

Until the next crossroads… the journey continues.

 

 

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The Blues All Round: How We Heal

 

“I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me.  In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.  I have experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core.

When people you know begin to question your integrity, you realize they don’t really know you at all… These are trying times.  Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”

-Montrell Jackson, Baton Rouge Police Officer killed in the line of duty 7.17.2016

“We don’t call for no bloodshed.  That’s how this all this started.  We don’t want no more bloodshed… This is our house. You can’t come in our house, killing us.  That’s what you doing.  This is our house. You can’t come in our house, killing us.  That’s what you doing.

At the end of the day, these people call these families. They tell them their daddies and mommas not coming home no more.  I know how they feel, because I got the same phone call.  No justice, no justice no peace. That’s what we are calling for.

Stop this killing! Stop this killing! Stop this killing!”

-Alton Sterling’s aunt, following the killing of 3 Baton Rouge police officers

“We, as a nation, have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement.  Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible.”

-President Barack Obama

My Dear Readers,

On 7.16.16, I celebrated my 63rd birthday in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, while attending the first annual Aboriginal Focusing-Oriented Therapy Conference.  As I spent two days among my white, black, brown Canadian and First Nation brothers and sisters, I felt thankful for the well wishes of family and friends around the world and for the blessings I had before me.

I was alive.  I was not beaten by the police and neither was I in jail.  And most important, my son was also alive and well.  With all of the tension occurring at home in the States, my birthday in Canada passed quietly and most importantly, with good memories.

I returned home that same evening. I take training at the Justice Institute in British Columbia pretty often, so I have made this trip numerous times.  However, being a black   man traveling alone, I have had my share of tense moments at the US border with law enforcement officials.  This time, however, it went well.  I remember thanking the officer for her service and asking that she be careful.  We both smiled and nodded, and I went on my way.

I had a peaceful, relaxing drive back to Seattle, enjoying the blue sky and jazz music all the way home…  and then the very next day all hell broke out. 

Blue Lives Matter!!

Three police officers are shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Another three are wounded, one critically fighting for his life.

Is there open warfare by African-Americans on the police?  Consider the following:

  • Five Dallas police officers (2016) killed by a black man while escorting a peaceful demonstration. (The assailant is killed by police)
  • Two New York City police officers (2014) killed by a black man in while they sat in their patrol vehicle (the assailant committed suicide)
  • Four Lakewood police officers killed (2009) by a black man while eating a meal during their break. (The assailant is killed by police)
  • A police officer in Seattle WA (2009) is shot and killed and his partner wounded while sitting in their patrol vehicle. (The assailant is convicted, serving life in prison)

 

Black Lives Matter!!

I always feel tense when I interact with the police. I feel my fear of them, and I feel their fear of me.  I feel it when I am in my own community or visiting other communities where there is no one else around with dark skin like mine.  Maybe it’s hyper-awareness, but when I see the police in my vicinity, I reflect on the black males I know of who have died after interactions with police officers, such as Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and the most recent ones, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

A common theme in these police killings of black males is the police officer feared for his safety, even when the person is unarmed and subdued, so I realize that pretty much anything I do may cause an officer to fear for his safety—enough to cause him to shoot me.

Recently, I pulled into a gas station to fill up, and I was just behind a police car as I pulled in. I found myself having the same fear that I would have when a police vehicle pulled up behind me, regardless of whether the lights were on, and the pit in my stomach, the racing thoughts and sense of powerlessness all returned.

As I pulled into the gas station, I wondered what was going on in that police officer’s mind.  Did he now see me in the same way that I saw him? Or was there no difference for him at all—was I always something or someone to be feared, so this was just more of the same?

As I parked my vehicle, I saw him turn around and zoom past me, checking me out.  It was clear he had not turned into the station for gas; rather he had been checking me out to see if I was following him.

I shared the experience with several other black men I know.  The responses I received were that of laughter and comments such as “good, now the cop knows how we feel when gets behind one of us.”  One of the men asked me, “did you feel the power?’

Did I feel the power?  No, I didn’t.  People, this is not a good thing. What I felt was the police officer’s fear.   He feared me and I had done nothing to him.   My goal was simply to get gas, not kill or injure a police officer.

The problem between the law enforcement and the African-American community is not fear itself but rather, our decision to live in fear of each other.

How do we rid ourselves of fear?

We do not rid ourselves of fear.  Fear is merely an emotion.  Instead, we must seek to heal the traumatic wounds.  We can do this by embracing our fear.  Fear is a necessary emotion that must be balanced with other emotions.  When unchecked or unbalanced, we are left to exist in our fear.

How do we heal the wound between the community and the police?

We must want to respect those who serve and protect the community, upholding law and order and in return, those who uphold law and order must want to respect the members of the community they are sworn to serve and protect. 

What steps can be taken?

Police officers must want to get out of their patrol vehicles and be more involved within the communities they serve.  Members of the communities must want to extend themselves to police officers.  Trust is built and strengthens in relationships and communications.

The POST model below can be used by both police and communities of color to build and reinforce these incredibly important relationships:

P (Partnership)

O (Open communications)

S (Strategies for Success)

T (Teamwork Approach)

Concluding Words

“These are trying times.  Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”

-Montrell Jackson, Baton Rouge Police Officer killed in the line of duty 7.17.2016

“We need to temper our words and open our hearts.”

-President Barack Obama

The current political climate in this country is not helping to guide us out of these dark and turbulent waters. However, I take warmth and solace in the calming wisdom and words from President Obama:

“It remains up to us that our best selves are reflective across America, not our worse.  We have had our divisions and they are not new.

A bullet need only happen once but for peace to work we need to be reminded of its existence again and again and again.”

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

 

 

Race-Based Trauma: The Blacks And The Blues

“There is a systemic targeting of African-Africans and a systemic lack of accountability when police use excessive force.  This is a national problem.  It is deeply disturbing.  And it has real life effects.”

-Rep Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) US Congressman

“Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver (Philando Castile) and the passengers, were white?  I don’t think it would have…I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

-Mark Dayton, Governor, Minnesota

“Black men are on the endangered species list.”

-Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am writing because I need help.  I’m frightened, and I don’t know what to do.  I have three sons ages 16, 12 and 8.  We have all seen the videos of police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.   We have watched all of the media coverage and engaged in online conversations, and I am exhausted.  My fears are overwhelming me, and it is impacting my work.  I am unable to sleep.   I find myself always calling and checking on my children.

I have spoken to my pastor about this, but he feels this will pass. We have prayed together, but I want to do more.  Please help.

-Worried Mom, Seattle

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My Dear Readers,

It may look like the world is turning upside down. It is shocking and saddening to all of us that lives of African-Americans and police officers have been needlessly taken.  As these horrific events unfold, we are being bombarded with continuous media coverage of the events.  As a result, we are continuously exposed to race-based trauma that is compounded through repeated media coverage and sharing over social media outlets.

Race-based trauma can occur in several forms:

  • Witnessing ethno-violence or discrimination against another person,
  • Historical or personal memory of racism,
  • Institutional racism,
  • Micro or macro aggressions, and
  • Hypervigilance due to the constant threat of racial discrimination.

 

Race-based trauma can come from any traumatic event and can be marked by an acute state of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.  This is an acute trauma, which means that if it is not treated in a reasonable timeframe, it can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder.

Vicarious trauma is a term that has been utilized to define the constant re-exposing of trauma workers to traumatized clients and the reports of traumatic experiences.  This definition has been extended to include persons impacted by repetitive or continuous media viewing of traumatic events.  Therefore, it is important to be aware of the possible emotional and psychological harm that can occur by following traumatic events via social media or online conversations.

Understanding How the Brain Responds to Trauma

  • In anticipation of the pain, the body signals the brain to activate the limbic system
  • The limbic system is responsible for the functions that inform one’s survival instincts and reflexes
  • The limbic system also regulates autonomic nervous system and informs one’s stress and relaxation.
  • The amygdala lights up and begins attaching emotional meaning to these sensation
  • It is the amygdala that signals other parts of the brain that there is danger (habitual pain) and sends outputs to the  hypothalamus for activation of the sympathetic nervous system
  • This creates a freeze, fight or flight response within the individual

 

Signs of trauma include the following:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Feeling sad or hopeless

 

It is through regular processing of the feelings that these events evoke that one is able to achieve a sense of well-being as well as growing and maintaining good connections with others.  When a traumatic event occurs, the brain becomes deregulated, creating a disconnection that moves the person away from being safe with themselves and with others.

Self Care After Emotional & Psychological Trauma

Use the Five R’s of RELIEF (respite, reactions, reflections, response and reevaluation)

Respite-Step Away

  • Disconnect from triggering interactions or other situations that may elicit the freeze, fight or flight response

Reactions– Own them

  • Take responsibility for your feelings
  • Understand the consequences of undirected anger/rage

Reflect-Seek balance in your feelings & thoughts

  • Find ways to exert physical energy
  • Create a daily routine that includes brisk walking or jogging
  • Find safe ways to discharge intense feelings and respond to mood swings

Response-Openly Communicate

  • Ask for help
  • Find a support group
  • Seek counseling or therapy
  • Connect with others within your community

Reevaluate –Self Care; consider the following:

  • Am I eating well?
  • Am I getting enough rest?
  • What is my intake of alcohol?
  • Am I maintaining my exercise regime?

 

Concluding Words

“Will my son live to see another day?  This question is now my reality.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

“We’re hurting.  Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heart broken.”

-David Brown, Dallas police chief

It is without question that Black Lives Matter, but the same is true for the lives of those who wear the blue uniform of law enforcement.  We currently live in fear of each other.  Regardless of the reasons, this is our sad reality.

Many are expressing fear due to the actions of the recent past and the uncertainties that lie ahead.  We are taught to control and manage our fear, but because it is impossible to do so, we move with anxiety and hesitation.  Fear is not a bad emotion; it is simply an emotion that we can choose to balance in our lives.

The fear that divides us will not dissipate overnight.  Because this fear is also historical and intergenerational, it will not dissipate over time, either.  African-Americans will continue to live in fear of law enforcement and police will continue to live in fear of black males unless we focus on the work of healing the vast wounds and closing the gaps that thrive between us.

Time, in and of itself, does not heal wounds.  Time can be meaningless.  It is the work we do, utilizing the time that is given to us that will heal our wounds. Until we are ALL willing to do that work, the best any of us can do is to move towards living WITH our fear instead of living IN our fear.

Now is the time to do the work.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Love and Fear: Corporal Punishment Part 2

“A lie, told often enough, becomes the truth.”

-Vladimir Lenin

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”

-Adolf Hitler

“When a myth is shared by large numbers of people, it becomes a reality.”

-Lawrence Blair

Dear Dr. Kane:

I don’t think Mrs. Spears did anything wrong and she should not be held accountable for punishing her children.  I think everything that has transpired gives the children the power to “do what they want” – and leads them to become career criminals—because  seeing their mother punished for disciplining them means that what they were doing is okay.

Instead of arresting Ms. Spears, they should have filed charges against the kids for the false report, and given them community service as a punishment.  This would be a win-win, in that it supports Ms. Spears’ position that what they did was wrong, it requires them to do something good for the community, and it gives them something to do.

It‘s unfortunate that people believe that spanking is the same as child abuse.  I think spanking is misunderstood.  As parents, it is our responsibility to raise good, upstanding kids that fear criminal activity. This poor mom needs help, not punishment.

A Concerned Reader, Seattle, WA

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My Dear Readers,

Last week, I wrote about the story of an African-American mother who had physically disciplined her three sons for breaking into a neighbor’s home.   She disciplined them by hitting them with a RCA extension cord.  The encounter resulted in bleeding, lacerations, bruising, and cuts.  The mother was arrested, charged with child abuse and the children were removed from her custody.

In my response, I defined the difference between a spanking, which, done in a controlled manner, can be insightful, and a beating where the intent is to cause pain, fear, and psychological trauma.    I also provided research clearly showing that corporal punishment does not reduce black male criminal behavior.   Yet the responses show overwhelming support for physical punishment.  Why?

A dear friend and judge in the King County Superior Court recently sent me the following email after listening to a local African-American radio station:

“The radio callers absolutely supported the mother with the extension cord.  I waited in vain for another voice to be heard.”

Following the receipt of this email, I immediately sent the radio station last week’s blog, which included the data the lack of impact of corporal punishment on African-American male incarceration.  Despite my repeated attempts, the radio station has not responded.

In my role as a clinical traumatologist, I have provided data and clinical insight regarding the consequences of psychological trauma being impacted upon the African-American community, specifically affirming that as descendants of those enduring slavery, segregation and other forms of oppression, we are a people who are submerged deeply in trauma.  Yet we are openly applauding, supporting and encouraging methods of physical discipline that serve to reinforce our trauma…under the guise of good parenting?

There are several factors that influence the African-American community to support and encourage physical i.e. corporal punishment:

  • The fear of the police
  • Holding onto their own traumatic experiences of suffering under white oppression
  • Unresolved frustrations of social factors in which we have little control
  • The misreading of Scripture i.e. Proverbs 13:24. Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

 

Dr. Kane’s Truths

We have bought the lie and have now made it our truth. 

Although a spanking may be viewed as a controlled method to gain a specific response, it now has been placed on the same plateau as a beating, which, during slavery times is nothing more than an uncontrolled reaction meant to simultaneously release one’s anger and to inflict pain and fear to another.

We have brought the psychological trauma of the slave master into the 21st Century and called it our own.

The argument of the parent’s right to utilize corporal punishment is as old and no different from that of a slave master in the 18th Century arguing his right to punish his slaves as he sees fit to do so.   Both arguments carry the themes of maintenance of order and discipline.

We live in fear.  We live in fear of the unknown that surrounds us.

As African-Americans, we live in a heightened state of vigilance.  This vigilance, over time, can make us act out our reactions based on fear, instead of us using that vigilance to craft responses based on balanced emotions and thoughts.  When one’s foundation is severely shaken, one can commit actions that can be psychologically traumatizing to self and others.

We beat our children because we do not love ourselves.

As terrible as this may sound, consider the following:

  • Why do we utilize the model of the slave master’s discipline towards our children?
  • Why do we support corporal punishment that results in lacerations, bleeding, bruising and cuts?
  • Why do we hold to biblical scriptures that reinforcing psychological trauma?
  • Why are we pressing, forcing for our children to model our behavior i.e. to live in fear?

 

Concluding Words

What will become of Ms. Spears?

Most likely, the district attorney will wait six months or so until the furor dies down and will quietly craft a plea bargain with Ms. Spears that acknowledges the error of her well-intended actions.  In return, she will be sentenced to probation, with a commitment not to re-offend, community service—most likely public speaking about child abuse, and parenting classes.  Her children will then be returned to her custody.

What will be gained or learned from this experience?

Nothing.  Ms. Spears and other single mothers raising their children will continue to view themselves and be viewed as victims of a racist and oppressive system.  Neither they nor the wider African-American community will further investigate the issues of psychological trauma or other methods of child and adolescent rearing without corporal punishment.

Why are we resistant to changing the way we discipline our children?

One, we have bought the lie that beating our children is the optimal way to raise them, and in using scripture to support that reasoning, we have made it our truth.  Just as the reader said,

“It is our responsibility to raise good upstanding kids that fear criminal activity and encourage the good.”

It may sound good, but this is clearly not true.  Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to raise their children to be obedient to them and to be upstanding citizens. However, it is also a parent’s responsibility to ensure moral development.  We want to believe that our children will be good citizens and do good things because it is the right thing to do, not because of the fear of being incarcerated.

Two, we are comfortable “living in fear.”  This comfort does not mean we are happy. Instead, it means that we are so comfortable with these methods that we are not willing to even investigate others, for fear that they will not do the job well enough, regardless of data that shows how ineffective it is, and how it harms our children.  We are afraid of learning and adapting new and different methods in working with our children, so we choose to remain in our fear instead of being willing to do something different, which would require us to move forward, taking our fears with us.

Three, we are doing what we know, and not seeking other means.  We continue with the methods that we know, telling ourselves that “it worked with me, therefore it will work for my children.” Of the three reasons, this is the most dangerous because it assumes that simply because these methods worked in the past, that they will work in the future. This is like saying that because a computer worked for our purposes in the 1970s, it works for us now, even though it clearly cannot.  Environments change, our knowledge and consciousness expands, and most importantly, people transform.

As a community, we as African-Americans are traumatized and beholden to our past.  We beat our children to encourage good citizenry, even though our actions do not model those behaviors, under the guise of protecting them from a racist and inhumane criminal justice system.  In reality, all we are doing is shifting our anger, frustration and fear to those we say we love and sacrifice the most for.

Meanwhile, as the beatings continue, black males continue to have high rates of incarceration, high rates of domestic violence, and high rates of mental illness, drug abuse, and alcoholism—all of which are clear indicators of complex psychological trauma.

So the next time you beat your child, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did the same actions by the slave masters prevent the slaves from being disobedient or escaping the “loving care” of their masters?
  • Did fear make the slave into a better person? Will this do the same for your child?
  • Did the welts, bruises and pain inflicted onto the slave grow into “pleasant memories”? How will you respond when your grandchild comes to you for comfort following the same infliction of pain, fear, and trauma that you inflicted as a parent?

Please remember that psychological trauma is a permanent fixture within the body and psychological self. Those who are whipped and beaten down are likely to pass on the same behavior to their children.  If you love yourself, then don’t physically hurt your children.  There is already a cruel and inhumane criminal justice system waiting for the opportunity to do so.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…