On October 12th around 2am my nephew and I were playing video games at home. This kid is pretty good and I was so focused on not letting him beat me. I heard a strange noise from my bedroom window so i grabbed my gun and slowly walked over to investigate the noise. Within a split second, I was shot through the same window. Now you won’t believe this but the intruder who shot me, was actually a police officer. My neighbor James called the police because he noticed my front door was open. Initially, he was concerned for my safety and asked them to do a wellness check in my apartment. The officer didn’t identify himself as a cop until I felt the heat from the bullet ripping through my skin. I was saving money from work to go to med school because I have dreams just like you. But you see, those dreams were stripped because I was killed in my bedroom by a police officer during a wellness check.
Stories like Atatiana Jefferson’s are way too common in the African American Community.
Police violence is a leading cause of death for young people in the United States – specifically Black, Latino and Native American men. About 1 in every 1,000 Black men can expect to be killed at the hands of police.
Why are the police responsible for so many fatal encounters with minorities in America? Regrettably, every time a cop kills someone they use the word FEAR.
But WHAT is FEAR? It’s a human emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of perceived danger. Most often, when we think about FEAR, it is unpleasant, threatening and usually unknown. Unfortunately, FEAR is a safe word used for empathy in Law Enforcement. The statement “I feared for my life” allows Police Officers to kill Black people without punishment.
I recently spoke with a detective about fear, impulsivity and decision-making in law enforcement. I know what it feels like to fear for my life during a routine traffic stop but I wanted the detective to explain what FEAR meant as an armed Police Officer.
I asked several questions about fear and stressors.
Transcribed parts from the recorded interview
Time on force: 13 years
Area: Metro Atlanta
Not everyone is meant to be a Police Officer. This could easily mess up your mental health. After this, I would never police anywhere again, ever. I don’t sleep 8 hours; I have nightmares, panic attacks, paranoia, PTSD.
So what would you consider or what would be helpful for you as a police officer. Not necessarily how the public responds to you and how officers need to gain public trust, that’s long term. But what if the department introduced mindfulness as a practice, would you consider it?
Sure. We have a program where we meet with a Chaplain in groups but at times, people don’t respond well within group settings. We are the Police; we’re supposed to have thick skin – but we suppress so much emotionally because we’re afraid of being judged. I have co-workers who are emotionally detached and cold to death. We see dead bodies so often – death notifications so often. They’ve been doing it for so long and the compassion is gone. Some of us are overworked, 7 days a week!
The Detective explains a recent encounter with a murder suspect. After several verbal commands are ignored, the detective is forced to draw their service gun. The suspect also has a loaded gun in his waist.
I couldn’t do it. When I saw his face. As I told him to get down, he had the same fear in his eyes that I felt. I’m tired of this, you know? Tired of Black boys being killed in general, tired of watching mothers scream in pain – this boy wasn’t even 21 years old. He has his whole life ahead of him. In that split second, it was my choice, and I couldn’t fire.
Me: So you risked your life for his?
Detective: [Long pause] I signed up for this. My job doesn’t guarantee that I make it home…
Meditation and the scientific benefits of mindfulness:
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
In other words, mindfulness is a technique used to become intentionally aware of the present moment in order to make the best decisions for yourself and others.
Excerpt from How Mindfulness Impacted my Life in Law Enforcement
There was a certain point in my life where I realized that I needed to do something to better manage my response to stress. A lot of us spend great deals of time training our bodies, but neglect the mental aspect. Mental training is just as important as physical. I believe that if every police officer practiced mindfulness, we would have a lot less health issues in law enforcement. In my experience with mindfulness, I found myself better able to hold my attention during long patrol shifts and found my mental acuity became much more refined. While on-duty, I found that I was not second guessing myself in situations that required quick response time. I also just felt generally more at ease while on shift and would come home in much less mentally exhausted state of mind. Not to mention, my sleep quality had a noticeable improvement. This of course wasn’t after a few days of practicing mindfulness, but after months of consistency.
In 2014, 43 police officers from a city in the Pacific Northwestern part of the United States completed an 8-week mindfulness-training program. The program, Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training (MBRT) was designed specifically to address police officer stress; improve mindfulness, mental focus, situational awareness and emotional functioning. At the end of the pilot study, the researchers found “significant improvement in self-reported mindfulness, resilience, police and perceived stress, burnout, emotional intelligence, difficulties with emotion regulation, mental health, physical health, anger, fatigue, and sleep disturbance.” Although, the study has several limitations, the results prove mindfulness could potentially reduce harmful effects of work-related stressors and teach officers to de-escalate volatile situations without the use of deadly force.
A Mindfulness based program design:
A web based application and mobile system where law enforcement employees log daily usage. The concept is similar to a compulsory timekeeping system used to track hours worked. Meditation should total 15 minutes for every shift worked, with an option to extend sessions based on the employees needs. *Use methods that are familiar to the police officer culture
Conduct surveys from police personnel throughout the United States to identify common stressors.
– Phone Calls
-In Person Interviews
Mindfulness focused around particular areas such as:
· Non judgment
· Community relations
A wellness center specifically used to facilitate building trust within the community. Group sessions are held with officers and residents as students in a single class.
Last year, police killed 1,164 people. In 2017, police killed a total of 1,147 people. 25% of those killed were Black people despite only making up 13% of the population. “Although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for just 13 percent of the U.S. population, but more than a quarter of police shooting victims. The disparity is even more pronounced among unarmed victims, of whom more than a third are Black.”
This is a public health issue that impacts us all…
And While mindfulness isn’t the complete answer, it could be used as a valuable tool to promote non reactive, nonjudgmental awareness and possibly reduce fatal police encounters nationwide.