Police killings can harm mental health of entire African American community

When police kill unarmed African Americans, the entire African American community in the state in which it occurs can suffer long-term negative mental health impacts, according to social scientist David R. Williams.

In an interview on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on June 1, 2020, Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Stuart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, described his research that found links between what people consider to be unjustified police killings and worse mental health in the larger African American community, with the negative impact lasting for three months.

“That is significant,” he said. “The mental health impact that we found for police shootings is similar to the mental health impact of having to live with diabetes.”

Williams also said his research has found that everyday discrimination—the “little things in day-to-day life,” like not being treated with respect, or receiving poor service—causes stress, which leads to a cumulative negative impact on both mental and physical health. “We found that about one in four or five African Americans experience things like that at least once a week,” Williams said. “High levels of discrimination have been linked to cardiovascular disease, to the onset of cancer, to biological dysregulation, and poorer mental health.”

Listen to the CNN interview: Study finds lasting mental health impacts of police killings

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