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For Black Americans, Racial Trauma Impacts Mental Health

Karen Maniraho, HOST: This week has been especially trying many Black Americans. Amidst live coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minnesota police officer charged with killing George Floyd, body cam footage has vividly shown new incidents of violence by police against African Americans: The pepper-spraying of Lieutenant Caron Nazario by officers in Virginia, and the police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man in Minnesota. Saundrea I. Coleman was a staff administrator at the NYPD, and after retiring in 2015 devoted herself full time to community organizing. This last year she’s worked full time with Upper East Side 4 Black Lives Matter. The group has organized vigils every night since June. I spoke with her today, and she told me she feels that Black people don’t get a chance to even mourn one death, before the next occurs.

Saundrea I. Coleman: It’s quite disappointing. Basically, we just don’t get a chance to mourn. We don’t get the chance to grieve our loved ones, we don’t get the chance to grieve our celebrities, and we do not get a chance to grieve everyday citizens in Black America. It’s just hard for.

MANIRAHO: This has been a really difficult week. In terms of, we have the Derek Chauvin trial happening on TV right now, we have the video release of Daunte Wright’s killing, and also a video of Lieutenant Caron Nazario and his traffic stop in Windsor, Virginia. You spoke about how it feels like we can’t catch a break. What does that mean for you? Could you talk a little bit more about that?

COLEMAN: I mean, when does it stop? We just don’t get a chance to collect and gather and process our grief, because it’s grief after grief. We say, it seems like Black America stays in a realm of bereavement, you know? Even if it’s loved ones, or it’s everyday citizens dying in the streets because of police violence. And what are we bringing into our law enforcement agencies? What is the criteria? Because, I come from law enforcement -- I’m retired -- a civilian supervisor with NYPD. How far back are they digging in to them, when they check them out, screen them? There’s a big disregard for Black life, a big disregard when it comes to law enforcement.

MANIRAHO: It seems like this kind of sustained effort to have these community gatherings, to have these protests, to have these conversations around police misconduct has had a toll on you as an organizer. Could you talk about what those mental health impacts have been in this last year of organizing, or even in this past week?

COLEMAN: It’s been rough. I mean, to have people come out during a pandemic that’s killing people -- white and Black -- stand out there or march in the street and to protest the injustices that we are experiencing, we all have risked our lives for almost a year, assembling. But I think, us coming together and gathering, it gave a lot of people a sense of being, a sense of purpose. There’s been a sense of community birthed out of a tragedy. And you know, one person actually said … coming in this space has helped their mental health.

MANIRAHO: And that was Saundrea I. Coleman, a community organizer with Upper East Side 4 Black Lives Matter. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

COLEMAN: Thank you.


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