Op-ed: Newark police and community talking about trauma
by Lionel Latouche/March 23, 2017 Featured image via ejusa.org.
I see trauma everyday. As a trauma therapist in Newark, NJ, I see trauma in the youth and families who are at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. I am also a survivor of trauma: my cousin was killed by a police officer in New York. I am reminded of the vulnerability of black bodies every time I hear of another police-involved shooting across the country.
This past fall, I had a chance to share with Newark police officers the impact of police on my family as a participant in the Equal Justice USA Police/Community Initiative. For the past year Newark police and community members have been coming together to talk about trauma and examine the relationship between police and communities of color, and how we can effectively reduce violence and support victims. Understanding what trauma is – for civilians and police, as well as the historical trauma people of color have endured from slavery and throughout the justice system – gives police and civilians a shared framework to start to understand one another’s perspective. It was empowering for me to be able to share directly with officers how the police have harmed my family. And it changed my perspective to recognize the shared experiences between myself and officers – we both experience trauma by working closely with marginalized groups in Newark.
Once we identified trauma in our lives and communities, we could talk about effective responses to it. We saw that together we could fight to increase services for trauma survivors, or have police respond with care to traumatized people they encounter on the streets, particularly boys and men of color who are least likely to be seen as victims of violence. Throughout these sessions, concrete ideas emerged about changes that can and should be made to improve the relationship between the Newark PD and the community, accountability, and public safety.
One of the proposed recommendations is a statement from Newark Police addressing the role the law enforcement community has played in harming communities of color. Having lost a loved one to an officer shooting, I know the damage to communities and families that makes statements like this meaningful. In order to build trust between the police and community we must first acknowledge the harm done to families in the name of law enforcement.
At the end of January, police, faith leaders, community leaders, social service providers, and other concerned citizens came together to talk about how to advocate for changes in the system that the Newark PD should act on. At this community meeting both police and community leaders affirmed our commitment to continue to work together to implement this and other recommendations that will lead to a safer Newark.
This program will continue in Newark this year. Equal Justice USA – the nonprofit that organized these gatherings – will continue to collaborate with the police department, schools, and faith leaders to implement recommendations as well as train over 150 more police and community together through weekly group sessions. If you’d like to be involved, you can register for the program at www.ejusa.org/newark.
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Lionel Latouche is the Lead Multisystemic Therapist at Community Solutions, Inc. in Newark. Latouche earned his master in social work at New York University and he is a member of the National Association of Social Workers.
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