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Trauma and the Killing of Trayvon

Pamela Bridgeman
Pamela Bridgeman

Early one Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001 a nation looked on in horror as fire and smoke, cinder and ashes bellowed from the Twin Towers in New York City.  The United States of America had been assaulted by hatred.  Images of an unidentified man jumping from the heights of a building plague the memory of all who dare recall that dreadful day.  Grief poured forth from a people who were nowhere near the towers.  Nor were they in any way connected to those who died that day.  Except that like those who died, they were American.

The President of the United States clad in military garb put a bullhorn to his mouth and declared that America would not let this violence go unanswered.  Protest sprang up around the nation.  Men and women enlisted in the armed forces.  America was provoked to action.  What was the rallying cry?  We are America and we won’t stand for that.

Traumatic experiences or situations are those that overwhelm individuals emotionally and leave them feeling vulnerable and powerless.  That’s how we as Americans felt in the immediate aftermath of the attacks though thankfully we quickly gained resolve. In addition to terrifying events such as violence, like 9/11 and assault, there are more subtle and insidious forms of trauma—such as discrimination, racism, oppression, and poverty.  They are pervasive and, when experienced chronically, have a cumulative impact that can be fundamentally life-altering[1].  Black men in America have been violated systematically and chronically mind, body, and spirit and very often without provocation.  Because of this, the killing of Trayvon Martin triggered a traumatic response among a large sector of the Black community in the United States.

I was awakened from my slumber on 9/11/2001 by an alarmed voice on the other end of the phone saying, “Did you see it.  Oh my God, did you see?” Not since that day have I witnessed such vicarious trauma. Not until the day after the verdict was rendered in the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin.  As a clinician who specializes in working with persons managing posttraumatic stress I immediately recognized the signs and symptoms emerging within the communities of the African Diaspora when the national conversation about the verdict of the trial began.  I became acutely aware of intrusive recall especially among mothers of black men.  Memories came flooding back to many black mommas of having to have “that” conversation.  The one where momma reminds him that it doesn’t matter that you earn above a three-figured salary; the store attendant is still going to suspect you are a thief.  I have held sobbing black women whose sons have been wrongly accused and have experienced fear for the life of my own son, who has never been in trouble a day in his life and is now an amazing husband and father.

Like Rachel weeping for her children in Ramah, around the nation and indeed across the globe mothers of black men let out a collective wail.  Trayvon could have been their son.  The anguish is not a belief that the verdict was wrong. There is no anger because there was an acquittal.  Most mothers of black men accept the verdict just as Rizpah did the decision of King David to hang her sons to satisfy a political debt.  They honor that a jury of peers weighed the evidence and believed they could render no other decision but not guilty.  But knowing and accepting the facts of a matter does not nullify the pain.  It does not keep the anxiety at bay.  Even now somewhere a Black momma worries more than she ever did before July 12, 2013 and wonders, “Will my boy be home tonight?” Trauma is like that.

America has been provoked again. Hopefully those of us who are Christians in Social Work have been provoked to love and good works (Hebrews 10:12).  Rallies have begun and dialogues initiated[2].  The narrative evoked by the saga of the Trayvon Martin killing is another clarion call to citizens of the United States of America to stand empathically and compassionately with one another.

[1] Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice. (2008). What is trauma? http://www.nonviolenceandsocialjustice.org/FAQs/What-is-Trauma/41/ Retrieved July 23, 2013.

[2]The Promise: A lesson in white privilege. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A89xhMV63rQ Retrieved July 23, 2013.

By Pamela A. Bridgeman, LCSW  consultant@pamelabridgeman.com

I have been a member of NACSW since 2005.  I am currently in private practice in Cartersville, GA.  I offer individual, group, couples, and family counseling as well as consulting services and training for mental health professionals.  I am available for spiritual retreats and conferences. My books, “A Healing Journey: Emotional and Spiritual Wholeness through Personal Journaling” and “Love by Heart” are available on Amazon.com.

4 thoughts on “Trauma and the Killing of Trayvon

  1. Pamela, thank you so much for shedding a little light on the trauma revisited by African American mothers all across this country. As Christians who practice social work, we can no longer ignore the reality of this trauma.

  2. This is the best post I've read on the murder of Trayvon. It was explained in a way that all can relate to an understand the feelings of many in the African American community that tragic day. As a mother my perspective on the world and it's events are always seen through that lense and while my family is not African American I too have a teenage son that looks older than his age. And if dressed down in street wear someone might find a reason to believe that he looks sinister. I too could not stop thinking that it could be my son. I realize that this is the first time I had reason to fear that my child who appears Caucasian (although we are of Middle Eastern descent) could be seen as a threat simply walking down the street. I cannot imagine the African American communities continued stress and worry over their young sons. The truth is as long as hate and bigotry exsists none of us are safe. This is an issue that all races must deem intolerable and address.

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