The North Minneapolis community is struggling to come to terms with the recent homicide of a young African American man, Jamal Clark. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children and friends are co-victims, and it is challenging for them to make sense of their loss.
Condolences to the family and friends of this young man whose life came to a tragic end November 15. Homicide has dramatic emotional consequences for families and communities, and lingering effects can be felt in schools, neighborhoods and workplaces.
The risk for death by homicide for African American males is four times the national average (Huffington Post), and for those between the ages of 15-34, homicide is the leading cause of death (Centers for Disease Control). At least 35 percent of major cities in the Unites States report an increase in homicides and violent crimes in 2015 (NY Times).
As a result, the number of urban youth who witness homicide has increased. According to the Child Witness to Violence Project, in Los Angeles, 10 to 20 percent of children have witnessed a homicide, and in New Orleans, 40 percent had seen a dead body. Witnessing violence, directly or indirectly has a profound impact on mental, physical and spiritual health, and the co-victims will need a variety of supports to cope.
Following a homicide, with most of the attention focused on the victim and perpetrator, the co-victims and their emotional needs may be overlooked. When notified of the homicide of their loved one, there is often shock and disbelief that their loved one is gone. As reality sinks in, rage, fear, confusion and a sense of feeling overwhelmed may be experienced.
This can be a disabling crisis for families that were already experiencing multiple stressors. When co-victims have to interact with the medical examiner, police, and the criminal justice system, they may feel powerless and like their life is spinning out of control. With the recent homicides perpetrated by police across the country, the family can feel that they are under the microscope by the media and the community.
The press and media can be very intrusive during this period of great sadness and loss. The constant media coverage can serve to re-victimize the survivors, because they re-live the horror over and over.
When there is an attempt to look for facts that devalue the worthiness of the murder victim, such as their criminal record, this can further traumatize the family. Even more troubling is one posting on the Internet that indicates that the victim deserved to be shot. This type of behavior and communication demonstrates the ignorance of those who promote hatred and divisiveness.
All areas of functioning may be disrupted in the family and friends of the victim following this traumatic loss. Family and friends may often feel significant depression, anger, anxiety, panic and even guilt following the murder of a loved one. Sleep may disrupted and can sometimes be interrupted by dreams and nightmares.
There is risk for the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by flashbacks, intrusive thoughts about the trauma, feelings of detachment or unreality, and a sense of being on guard or vulnerable. This is a time when co-victims need support from family, friends, clergy, and sometimes grief counselors.
With the holidays approaching, this may be particularly difficult for survivors. If a co-victim expresses thoughts about being better off dead or expresses suicidal ideation, you will need to assist them with accessing crisis services such as Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies (COPE) or HCMC Acute Psychiatric Services (APS).
Survivor Resources is a local resource for families experiencing the homicide, suicide or accidental death of a family member. Family, friends and clergy can also be a strong support during this time of grief.
It is important to recognize that every person responds to their grief in an individualized way, defining their loss in their own way.
Contact information for resources: COPE — 612-596-1223; APS — 612-873-3161; Survivor Resources: 651-266-5674, 612-673-395, mobile 612-961-4770, 612-325- 9655, www.survivorresources.org; NorthPoint Health and Wellness — 612-543-2500
Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.