Psychological Assessment & Expert Witness Assessment

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Rodney King | Expert Witness Blog
Rodney King

George Floyd Trauma


Images of Black people being killed or brutalised by the police have a special meaning for Black people. These images trigger anxiety and memories of police brutality in victims and their families.

Many Black people have experienced brutality by the police directly or know someone who has experienced it.

BBC News Interview with Dr Bernard Horsford on the Psychological Trauma of Witnessing Police Violence on Social Media

Anxiety and trauma can be caused because many Black people will think they may also be subject to violence by the police.

The mental health problems caused by witnessing racist violence has been recognised by both the American Psychiatric Association ― who state that psychological trauma including PTSD has been caused by seeing images of Black people suffering abuse by the police.

There is a similar statement published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA statement deals with the ongoing psychological trauma caused to Black communities by seeing people repeatedly killed by the police. The President of the American Psychological Association said we are living in a racism pandemic.

The research is clear that repeated viewing of images of violence by the police and authorities can lead to acute stress symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and depression. Tynes et al. (2019) found viewing images of police killings leads to worse mental health outcomes.

Witnessing racist incidents harms mental health ― when we see these distressing images, the trauma can lead to anxiety disorders or exacerbate conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Images of Black people killed by the police may stay in the mind of those who view them for many months.

There is a strong sense of community and shared experience of discrimination in Black communities, so these images have a much stronger meaning for Black people. Other communities have also been outraged by these incidents.

Unfortunately, there were many incidents of Black people being killed by the police before George Floyd was murdered. For example:

  • Ahmed Arbury (was shot by ex-police officers when he was out jogging);

  • Breonna Taylor (shot and killed at home in error when the police raided the wrong house);

  • Eric Garner (killed by the police in a hold similar to George Floyd where he could not breathe);

  • Rodney King (was beaten by the police, the incident was filmed but the police acquitted); and

  • Philando Castile, (shot by police while driving).

In the UK there have been deaths of Black people following police intervention which have sparked outrage by Black communities such as Sean Rigg, Joy Gardner, Mark Duggan, Edson da Costa, and Rashan Charles.

African American’s are twice as likely to be shot by the police as White people. Black people are more likely to have force used against them (particularly Tasers). A Home Office report in 2018 found that Black people experienced 12% of incidents of police force despite being made up of only 3.3% of the population in England and Wales.

History has told us that when communities see these injustices this frequently leads to civil unrest. Incidents of excessive and unlawful police violence led to unrest in the 1960s in the 1980s and 1990s in the USA.

It was also said that the Brixton uprising in 1981 in the UK was triggered by heavy-handed policing under the stop and search laws. A young person was said to have died because of police brutality.


For the Authorities:

Act swiftly against deaths of Black people ― take the most serious action against the perpetrators. Prosecute and ensure that there is robust evidence to secure convictions. This will help the community see that justice is being done.

Follow the rules that the police are employed to enforce. It is hard to get respect when police do not follow the rules and kill Black people.

Ensure greater accountability; there needs to be more Black people in positions of power to drive change and ensure equality, diversity and inclusion.

For Black People Who See Images of Police Violence:

Seek professional help from psychologists or therapists with an in-depth understanding of Black communities and how racism and discrimination affect Black people.

If it can be shown that an incident that they witnessed caused a recognised psychological condition, then seek legal advice to determine if they have sufficient evidence to make a legal claim for personal injury.

Seek community support and talk about your experiences; this can be very therapeutic.

Try strategies which support distraction from the worry. Take physical exercise and focus on positive thinking.

Use online mental health resources (for example, on our website) on cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling and online mental health diagnosis.

Think positively and use your experience as a positive driver for change.

Work with community groups to address change.

Revisit the place of your trauma to try to reduce the fear associated with the place.

Do not keep on looking at the images of police violence which cause you distress.

Carry evidence so you can record any instances of police violence, most of the cases will be unsuccessful without photographic evidence or evidence of other people.

Find out More About Community Psychological Trauma and Police Violence