"I do not absolve myself. Lo the (human) soul is prone to evil, save that whenever my Lord has mercy. Lo, my Lord is forgiving; merciful". (Quran 12:53)
I recently heard a new term, “Post Traumatic Street Disorder”. I have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) but never heard of “Post Traumatic Street Disorder”. Before I describe it let me talk about PTSD to lay the groundwork.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) is described in the mental health field as a mental condition that results in a series of emotional and physical reactions in individuals who have either witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Events that cause the individual to fear for personal life and wellbeing—such as a car collision or other accident, a physical or sexual assault, long term abuse, torture, a natural disaster, living in a war zone, or life-altering experiences like the death of a loved one.
Then there is PTSS or Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome described by Dr. Joy DeGruy as relating to multi-generational trauma experienced by African Americans that include but are not limited to undiagnosed and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in enslaved Africans and their descendants.
PTSS posits that centuries of slavery in the United States, followed by systemic and structural racism and oppression, including lynching, Jim Crow laws, and unwarranted mass incarceration, have resulted in multigenerational maladaptive behaviors, which originated as survival strategies. The syndrome continues because children whose parents suffer from PTSS are often indoctrinated into the same behaviors, long after the behaviors have lost their contextual effectiveness.
DeGruy states that PTSS is not a disorder that can simply be treated and remedied clinically but rather also requires profound social change in individuals, as well as in institutions that continue to reify inequality and injustice toward the descendants of enslaved Africans.
I do believe both PTSD and PTSS is real. Being a former military veteran and being Black in America I have seen and experienced these disorders play themselves out in our community in negative ways. But PTSTD or Post Traumatic Street Disorder is also REAL.
With our work with Khalid Shah and the Stop The Violence Coalition, I first heard of Post Traumatic Street Disorder. I always recognized it but there was no official title or name for it. Most Black and Brown people that live in the inner city recognize it as much as they recognize themselves.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D – South Los Angeles) talked about this Post Traumatic Street Disorder in a press conference on December 11, 2018 in front of the Los Angeles Sentinel building in Los Angeles. Mr. Jones-Sawyer was promoting his Youth Diversion Programs to help prevent inner city youth from going to prison. While speaking Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer said :
“I had the pleasure of meeting a young man that just got out of prison. He served two years in juvenile facilities and two years in prison. And when I asked him why did he go to prison, he said he was hungry. I said, that doesn’t sound right. He said his mother was on drugs and his father was in prison, his brothers and sister were in gangs selling drugs. He hadn’t eaten in a week. Someone gave him five dollars so he can get something from Taco Bell. He gets to class ...you know how junior high school students are, they started making fun of him because his stomach was growling so hard and so loud that the whole class was making fun of him. He gets to Taco Bell, he was getting ready to grab his burrito and a hand comes over him. He… you know what we do when someone grabs your food, you fight them back (while gesturing a back elbow pushing movement ). Well he hit a LAPD officer in the face. They threw the book at him. One, because he had no support system. And I said brother you seem like you experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, before you went prison, when you were in juvenile (detention),when you were in prison, and now you are back in the street and not being able to get a job or housing. He said no my brother, I experienced Post Traumatic Street Disorder. Because what goes on in the streets… most times worse than what goes on in Iraq or Afghanistan and other places of war. And it brought to my mind that these - kids- are - traumatized…..”
The Post Traumatic Street Disorder reminded me of how they described Chicago as Chi-raq because it was comparable to the war zone of Iraq. Chiraq is a combination of Chicago(Chi) and Iraq(raq). The reason Chicago is often to refer to as Chiraq is due to its high number of homicides and violent crimes. Many observers compare Chicago to a battlefield, hence its comparison to Iraq, a country currently at war. Chiraq is not an offensive term, but merely one that tries to shine light on the violence plaguing Chicago. Between 2003 and 2011 Chicago had 4,265 murders, which is about 200 shy of the number of American forces that have died in Iraq during that same time period. Chicago had the highest rate of homicide in 2012 in the United States. You don't think that these young men and women have suffered Post Traumatic Street Disorder?
Dealing with poverty everyday, drugs everyday, death and murder everyday, dealing with violence everyday and not seeing a way out can result in a form of PTSD, but worse. Coupled with institutionalized racism, crime, and the new Jim Crow (which is the American justice system that is designed to keep you marginalized and kept at the bottom of the capitalistic caste or class system), you would be traumatized.
Post Traumatic Street Disorder (PTSTD) is a combination of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) coupled with systematic racism. Research have shown that people injured through violence are six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than people injured in accidents, according to our research. They are three times more likely to suffer from depression. But Post Traumatic Street Disorder (PTSTD) factors in our historical relationship with White Supremacy, and our people being excluded from economic prosperity.
The trauma begins even before the violence. The trauma coming from a fractured home front, the trauma of going from prison life, the trauma of coming out and not being able to get a job, housing, or financial assistance, the trauma from receiving an inferior education. The trauma from the presumption of guilt, just because you are Black. You can be shot by the police for doing everyday things like sleeping in your car, walking down the streets, shopping at the mall just because you are Black. Because your skin is a weapon to the dominant culture. You Don't have to carry a gun. That's traumatizing indeed.
How do we help these young people? Well we gotta stop villainizing them. They are not born with dreams of being a gang member, stripper, pimp, prostitute, drug dealer, or drug user. That is symptomatic of the system failing them. The next step is stop talking about it and be about it. Develop programs that will reach out to our youth. Work with your congressperson or your local city council person to find ways to get services to our community. And there are things that YOU can do individually that doesn’t require organizational support or the government. Me and my partner Imam Jamaal Bell use to drive around to street corners and take some of these corner boys to lunch. Or give them some sandwiches. Sit down and talk with them sometimes. Say hi sometimes without giving them the mean look. Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is smile and say hi. It may make their day.
In the Islamic tradition it says, if you see a wrong, correct it with your hands, if you can’t do that then correct it with your tongue, and if you cannot do that then hate it within your heart, but that is the weakest of faith. The only way to remedy Post Traumatic Street Disorder is to get involved. Correct it with your hands. As-salaamu alaikum.