Even videos of police killings can be traumatic

George Floyd's image is projected on the Robert E. Lee Monument as people gather around on June 18, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

A majority of college students of color show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after watching social media videos of police killing unarmed Black men, research finds.

Seeing such killings shared on social media contributes to anxiety and fear of future police encounters, researchers say.

The study in the Journal of Black Studies surveyed 134 college students in the United States, between the ages of 18 and 24, 77% of whom were Black or Latinx.

The researchers examined the students’ engagements with police brutality videos, their reactions to police killings of unarmed Black men and boys, their own encounters with police, and their perceptions about police violence.

They found that 90% of the students observed several acts of police violence on various social media platforms, with many reporting finding the videos hard to watch, while others shared anger, frustration, and fear over these videos.

Of the students, 75% reported getting stopped by the police and 79% of those respondents believed race was a factor and most felt high levels of anxiety during these encounters. Even the students who did not have direct interactions with the police were still fearful because they identified with victims they watched being killed by police and shared on social media.

The findings add to growing data by the US Census Bureau that race or ethnicity is a factor in being stopped by police and other related police violence.

“In communities of color, we are already mistrustful of law enforcement, watching police kill individuals who look like us or members of our families is traumatic,” says lead author Felicia Campbell, a lecturer at the Yale School of Medicine.

The study found 65% of students surveyed reported police violence is an issue in their hometowns, and 63% admitted getting coached by family members on how to handle police encounters.

Previous studies have shown that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people and five times more likely to be unarmed when killed. Studies also show that police are more likely to draw and shoot their guns after seeing a Black person than a white person. Stereotypes of Black people, especially men, as inherently criminal may contribute to police killing Black people at disproportionate rates, studies suggest.

“Higher education is no longer immune to Black Lives Matter’s message and can’t ignore police brutality that affects students of color,” says Pamela Valera, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “It impacts the mental health of these students.”

Researchers say police reform is needed to stop the killing of Black men, women, and children by law enforcement. They add that technology, which has led to an increase of videos of deadly encounters between police and unarmed Black men, has helped to promote calls for reform.

Source: Rutgers University