Police brutality can be traumatic. One study published in 2020 found that victims of police violence may experience injuries different from those caused by other types of violence. Another found that the impact extends beyond survivors— young people in a community where someone was killed by the police may experience negative consequences, especially among black and Latino students.
To address the mental health consequences of police violence, Rep. Cory Bush (R-Missouri) is introducing a bill that will direct resources to communities where police violence often occurs. Under the Family Healing Assistance Act, $100 million will be allocated to community and school programs to help people who have experienced, witnessed, or been in close proximity to police violence receive psychological help. According to Bush’s office, this law is the first of its kind, as there are currently no funds specifically dedicated to mental health resources for victims of police violence.
The police disproportionately kill black Americans, which not only affects the victims and their families, but can affect the entire community where violence occurs. Studies have shown that black adults who were subjected to at least one murder by police in the state where they live reported more days during which they rated their mental health as “poor.” In other words, when the police kill blacks, it harms the mental health of other blacks.
“We know that on a national scale, blacks… are more likely to be killed by the police than whites. There were only five days in 2022 when the police didn’t kill anyone,” Bush, a member of the House of Representatives, told Teen Vogue. “The prevalence of this problem, as we know, is felt everywhere. Thousands of families and loved ones suffer [when the police kill someone], and the surviving family members are left with trauma. Just as we invest in public health support, we must take these steps for victims and survivors of police violence. It’s important.”
The bill was written with the help of Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, sparking a national outcry against police brutality in black and brown communities. Bush said McSpadden came to her with the idea of helping support the families of those who were killed by police, which eventually became the Family Healing Assistance Act.
“My son Michael never got a proper trial. I do not know what justice looks like, but the fact that Congresswoman Bush introduced the Mike Brown bill [the Family Healing Assistance Act], a bill that my team and I have been working on for many years, gives me hope,” McSpadden told Teen Vogue. “I want to thank her for standing not only in the breach, but also standing when I couldn’t. I appreciate her fighting spirit. I will continue to seek the justice that Michael deserves. It’s been eight years [without] justice, but I want peace. I want my soul to be good. I want to be healed.”
“The death of my son [McSpadden] changed the trajectory of my life. I never really protested on my own before it happened, never thought about getting into politics before it happened,” Bush said. “I am the first black lives matter activist elected to Congress, and I am honored to have the opportunity to do so, but it is also my duty. The death of her son affected the whole world.”
The bill provides for the creation of two programs, one of which belongs to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, and the other to the Ministry of Education. The HHS program will focus on providing community resources for victims and families of victims of police violence, such as specialized training for mental health professionals in community centers and growing organizations that already exist to treat injuries sustained as a result of police violence.
The DOE program will fund education in schools for signs of trauma and will help increase resources to support students who have experienced trauma. Bush said that placing these resources directly in schools will not only provide direct access to them for young people, but will also help start conversations between school administrators, staff and students about mental health and trauma after police violence.
According to Bush, the availability of these resources will take the burden off families who face not only the grief and trauma caused by police violence, but also the daily stress associated with work, childcare and grocery shopping. While every state has a fund to help victims of crime and violence in general, victims of police violence often do not have the necessary police report identifying them as a victim, which in most places would give them the right to compensation. This law could eliminate some of the red tape for survivors of police violence by creating a separate support system.
“Resources should be available for everyone who is being abused by the police,” Bush said. “We know that this will directly affect families: resources will be allocated.”
McSpadden said the bill is part of a universal need: “Black women and mothers around the world are doing this mission with us: helping families heal.”