A white police officer tackles, shoots and kills Patrick Lyoya, a Black man.
A white police officer tackles, shoots and kills Patrick Lyoya, a Black man.

Resisting arrest during police encounters has proven deadly for Black men and women. 

In fact, an increasing number of mental health experts report that anxiety exacerbates law enforcement’s troubling and continued history and racist attitudes during such encounters.

“I knew for a fact it was going to be a bad outcome – I knew it was going to be. So, I was pleading with him to stay on the ground,” Wayne Butler told journalists in Grand Rapids, Michigan, following the police stop and shooting of Patrick Lyoya.

A police officer shot the 26-year-old in the back of his head after a viral video of the incident showed a struggle between Lyoya and the unnamed officer outside of Butler’s home.

The incident became the latest in a string of encounters between authorities and African Americans that continue to make the heart race for many in the Black community when stopped by police.

“One cannot help but notice that these troubling interactions commonly occur between the police and minority civilians,” Dr. Alfred S. Titus Jr., a retired New York Police detective, wrote in an email. 

“As a result, the anxiety level of minorities when stopped by the police is understandably elevated. Most people feel some sort of anxiety when stopped by the police. However, minorities feel greater levels of anxiety due to past known interactions that have occurred,” Titus noted.

According to Titus, when police and civilians interact, both experience elevated anxiety levels which often lead to a volatile situation.

“Both sides have concerns that are valid in their minds and often take steps, consciously and subconsciously, to address their concerns,” Titus wrote. 

“Police have tactics when entering a dangerous situation, often including maintaining a certain distance or calling for backup. Civilians prepare differently by getting their documents ready and available in advance and placing their hands on the steering wheel as the police approach.”

He continued:

“The problem exists when each entity goes beyond these common and acceptable reactions to each other. For example, when the anxiety causes an officer to speak disrespectfully to a civilian or unholsters their weapon prematurely, or when a civilian gets loud and disrespectful with the officer or refuses to follow the officer’s directions or instructions, what could have been a routine interaction, can go wrong. The anxiety that leads to these reactions is often fear and it can cause all humans to act and react in ways that we usually would not.”

Despite global demonstrations and the call that Black lives matter in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, data continues to show an increase in the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

One recently-published report on the data revealed that despite comprising just 13 percent of the population, Blacks accounted for 27 percent of individuals fatally shot by police last year.

According to the nonprofit Mapping Police Violence, Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be shot and killed by law enforcement officers.

“When we see these things happening to people who look like us, it can lead to symptoms of racial trauma, such as anxiety, depressed mood, increased aggression, insomnia, concentration difficulties and alcohol and drug usage,” said Dr. Rena Isen, a licensed psychologist and forensic evaluator. 

“There needs to be an increase in awareness on racial trauma, even in the mental health community,” asserted Isen, who researched how each instance of police brutality had a negative effect on the Black community. 

“Many of my Black friends and family members sought therapy after the killing of George Floyd,” Risen said. “But they felt like their experience was minimized or the connection between their symptoms and their experience of racism was ignored.”

Butler, who witnessed the officer shooting Lyoya, said he now knows what PTSD feels like.

He noted that by being Black and 6 foot 3 inches tall, he’s viewed different.

“It’s very uncomfortable on the road. I’m traumatized by police and I’m a law-abiding citizen,” Butler said. “I’m 6 feet 3 inches, I’m Black, and I am aware that the older white woman at the grocery store is scared of me. I have to open the door for her. I have to destroy the stereotype, one person at a time.”

Butler also noted the stark difference in how Black and white people continue to be perceived.

“You’ve got to get your frustration out without being an angry Black man,” Butler said. “You can protest, just don’t be angry. The people in the Capitol (on Jan. 6, 2021) knew it was OK. That’s where privilege lives.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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