Police Brutality's Impact on Black and Brown Mental Health


Key Takeaways: 

  • Police brutality is connected to poor health outcomes among Black people as well as medical mistrust in communities of color. 
  • Black and Latinx people are impacted not only physically, but psychologically by the anticipatory stress of police brutality and its effects, including depression and anxiety.  
  • Local organizations are implementing successful police-free response models for community safety and mental health crises.  


Approximately 1,000 people each year are shot and killed by police in the United States, with Black Americans killed by police at more than twice the rate for white Americans. While the widespread media reporting and social media sharing of videos of these killings has increased public awareness of the issue, it has also caused significant mental trauma for Black Americans. In our August Collaboratory, we gathered researchers and advocates to discuss how police brutality is impacting the mental health of BIPOC communities and how communities are coming together to create change.   

What keeps Sirry Alang, Associate Professor of Sociology and Health, Medicine and Society at Lehigh University, awake at night? “How systems of oppression shape health outcomes,” she shared at the Collaboratory. Police brutality’s effect on marginalized communities fits that description to a tee.  

In 2013, back when Alang was a doctoral student in Minneapolis, she wanted to better understand how to reduce stress and improve mental health — it was during this research that she saw the “extent to which police harassment, police brutality, police violence, and police terror impacts mental health.” Alang knows the outcomes of police brutality intimately. One of her closest collaborators: Jamal Black, was murdered by the police a few years later. 

I am hopeful — which I don’t often feel in my work — about the alternatives and the redefining, reimagining of public safety and the decriminalization of Black bodies.

Doctor Sirry Alang

Professor of Sociology and Health, Medicine and Society at Lehigh University

  “When police action or inaction dehumanizes and undermines the humanity of the individual, that constitutes police brutality [...] regardless of the intention of the officer,” Alang said of the physical and psychological effects of disproportionate policing.  

How did we get here? Alang walked attendees through the history of policing to underscore that it is a system grounded in white supremacy. Listen for yourself as she connects the strategies of colonization and slavery to modern-day policing. See Dr. Alang's commentary

The scary fact of the matter is that Black and Latinx people are three times more likely to get killed by the police, regardless if they live in an urban or rural setting. And even if a BIPOC individual is not physically harmed, the constant stress of elevated levels of hypervigilance, fear, anxiety and hopelessness is a source of harm. Police brutality has a ripple effect, Alang notes, because the psychological violence experienced paired with unmet mental health needs results in a lack of trust in systems, which contributes to medical mistrust and hesitancy. 

What can we do in order to cease the harm inflicted upon Black and Brown communities? “Cops should not be the responders to community crises. Badges and guns are not the answer,” Panelist member, Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project shares. The founders of the Anti Police-Terror Project recognized the need for a platform for protest as well as reactionary response, a platform to express righteous rage, and a platform to ensure that loved ones names stay in the headlines.  

At the same time, Brooks remarks that “We wanted to figure out how to be visionary and not just reactionary. (...) Anti Police-Terror Project was formed to rapidly respond, interrupt and ultimately eradicate police terror in our communities.” The goals of the project include supporting families, stopping the police violence before it happens, and creating public safety programs. The impact of the Anti Police-Terror Project stretches beyond Oakland — where they won $18 million dollars to fund prevention — and Sacramento because of its powerful communication, education, and networking efforts across the nation.  

In response to Alang’s research, Brooks shared, “I am hopeful — which I don’t often feel in my work — about the alternatives and the redefining, reimagining of public safety and the decriminalization of Black bodies.” 

Sofia Tupuola, PTBi Community Advisory Board member, added that considerations about how the values we hold as social harm and marginalize Black and Brown folks need to be at the center of plans to create safety in communities. Tupuola is a creator of the Resilient Youth Leadership Academy: Made to uplift BIPOC youth, particularly in the Bayview-Hunters Point district, Tupuola envisioned a safe space where children could be themselves without the threat and anxiety of gun violence.  

From a space of safety, these youth leaders were inspired to incubate their own ideas for to support their communities and did so by advocating to establish the Department of Police Accountability in San Francisco. “When you give them space to live, to feel safe, to be seen, to be empowered, they can do anything,” Tupuola said.  

 Learn more about our Collaboratories here. 

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Sirry Alang

Sirry Alang, PhD  | Lehigh University

Sirry Alang, associate professor of sociology and health, medicine, and society at the Lehigh College of Arts and Sciences, is a health disparities and inequities expert whose research explores the role of social structures and institutions in creating inequities in health status and many health outcomes across the globe.

Cat Brooks

Cat Brooks | Anti Police-Terror Project

Cat Brooks is an award-winning actress and playwright.  In her role as an activist, she is also the KPFA co-host of UpFront and resident playwright and actress with The Lower Bottom Playaz in Oakland and 3 Girls Theater in San Francisco.  As an organizer, she played a central role in the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant and spent the last decade working with impacted communities and families to rapidly respond to police violence and radically transform the ways our communities are policed and incarcerated. She is the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) and the Executive Director of The Justice Teams Network. Cat was also the runner-up in Oakland’s 2018 mayoral election, facing incumbent Libby Schaaf.


Sophia Tupuola

Sophia Tupuola | California Preterm Birth Initiative

Sophia Tupuola's ancestor's reign from Fagaima Tafuna, American Samoa. As the Oceania way of life became colonized, through forced migration her grandparents came to America settling in the southeast sector of San Francisco in Bayview Hunters Point. As a 1st generation American, Sophia navigated the harrowing reality of spatial and social sequestration blossoming through the concrete jungle of SFC. Sophia's direct advocacy work began through her labor of love with The A. Philip Randolph Institute - San Francisco, kicking off The Resilient Youth Leadership Academy (RYLA) 2015- present, engaging District 10 youth to participate civically launching educational campaigns of awareness, empowering youth voices and bridging the gap between inner-city youth and City and State elected officials. As a new mother giving birth during the COVID pandemic, Sophia has endured the exhausting journey of navigating new institutions of racism through homelessness and prenatal and postpartum care. These experiences have accosted her new insights to utilize her voice and work on upstream efforts to tackle health, wealth and wellness disparities in black and brown communities.

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