Study: Police Killings Impact Black Community’s Mental Health

Researchers call for preventative programs to decrease deaths, effects

Children at Antwon Rose protests in Pittsburgh, PA

© Jasper Colt-USA TODAY NETWORK

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PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) – A new study finds police killings of unarmed black Americans impact the mental health of African-Americans across the country.

The news comes amid a week of protests over the fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld last Tuesday. Rose was fleeing a traffic stop and his back turned to the officer when three shots rang out.

The study says Police kill more than 300 black Americans each year in the U.S. and at least a quarter of them are unarmed. Black Americans are almost three times more likely to be shot by police than their white peers.

The study published this week in The Lancet medical journal was conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University and Harvard University.

Study co-author and University of Pennsylvania assistant professor of health policy Dr. Antheendar Venkataramani told the KDKA Radio Afternoon News the study was inspired by the public response following the death of unarmed black Americans.

“One of the things that we wanted to look at was whether these events lead people not just to become upset about them happening but maybe these events potentially cause people to get sick, crossing the line from just being something that was upsetting to something that was really introducing disease,” he explained. “That’s why we pursued this study.”

Researchers compared data on police killings and sats from the 2013-15 U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BFRSS) to determine the impact of police killings of unarmed African-American adults on the mental health of other black adults in the general U.S. population.

“We found a substantial burden of mental illness caused by these events among people who weren’t directly related to the event at all,” Venkataramani told the KDKA Radio Afternoon News.

“We also looked to see whether they affected the mental health of white Americans and we didn’t see any impact there.”

Researchers saw a similar lack of impact by police killings of armed black Americans or unarmed white Americans by both groups.

Venkataramani explains that public killings of unarmed black Americans are interpreted in a specific way due to the history of systemic racism in America, an interpretation not seen in the police killing of whites.

“We think that when people in the black community see these events, they’re not only tragic but they introduce a sense of their lives being valued less than the lives of others,” Venkataramani said. “And we think that’s one of the things that could be making people sick.”

The study’s conclusion calls for implementation of preventative programs to decrease officer-involved killings to mitigate the adverse effects on America’s black community.

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