By Emilia Mense Caby, SheKnows, April 26, 2021
In the immediate aftermath of the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin, I reeled at the news of another death from another police shooting, this time a child. As more information came out about Ma’Khia Bryant, my heart continued to crack open. As a former foster care case manager and violence prevention specialist in schools, I knew many girls like Ma’Khia: Girls whose young lives were shaped by trauma and who were not given the resources or support they needed to overcome the havoc that it wreaked in their lives. These were joyful, silly girls who were just as likely to crack a witty joke, support a friend in need as they were to react aggressively when they felt threatened. Understanding the toll trauma takes on our brains and bodies puts the actions of Ma’Khia and others like her into perspective. Too often our service providers, our foster care system, our schools, our behavior specialists — and yes, our police — operate from a lens that is not trauma informed and our most vulnerable suffer because of it.
You’ve probably heard the term “trauma informed“ before, but what exactly does it mean? To view the world through a trauma-informed lens means that I understand that I cannot know what everyone around me is experiencing, but I can interact with them in a way that will not add to the trauma they may have already endured. Beginning with a very simple shift in our thinking we move from “What is wrong with you?” to “What has happened to you?”
This shift can make a world of difference. In the case of Ma’Khia Bryant it means shifting the conversation from all the things you’re told to think she did wrong, the things that shape her as a threat in our minds instead of a victim: the knife, the racism we’re all biased with, the trope of the angry, aggressive Black girl/woman and, ignoring all of that, walking away from it. Asking instead, what happened to this smart, sweet, beautiful girl who had plans to make her parents proud and who wanted better things for her life. What happened to her? That is where a trauma lens starts, because there was nothing wrong with Ma’Khia and there is nothing wrong with the many young people like her, she was just as deserving of love, affection and protection as any of us.