As a student member of the APA and a psychologist in training, I’ve been disappointed in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) public response to the deaths of African American’s at the hands of police officers as well as mass shooters. While I’ve appreciated APA’s vigorous response to the Orlando tragedy, I couldn’t help but compare it to the APA’s response to the Charleston shootings. When I looked back to see if the APA offered services to the families of the victims of the Charleston shootings, or any other resources, I couldn’t find anything, not even a public statement condemning the shootings. Granted, the Charleston shooting occurred only a few weeks before the release of the Hoffman Report. Yet preoccupation with the Hoffman Report does not explain APA’s silence, as it issued four press releases between the day of the Charleston shooting and the release of the Hoffman Report.
Moreover, the APA’s virtual silence in response to the numerous police shootings of unarmed African American men, women, and children is dumbfounding. In an op-ed in response to Ferguson, written by former APA President Nadine Kaslow and former APA CEO Norman Anderson, the authors fall short of condemning the shooting of an unarmed black teenager and state, “[t]he judicial system will determine exactly what transpired between Michael Brown and the police officer.” Considering the historical treatment of African Americans by the judicial system, and the continued shocking disparities, their faith in the ability of the system to determine what transpired and provide a just outcome was questionable at best. Perhaps Kaslow and Anderson’s questionable faith is representative of the APA’s position overall, and explains the silence.
The Hoffman Report brings about another point, while there was widespread indignation that the APA colluded with DOD officials to permit psychologists to participate in torture at Guantanamo, where is the indignation toward African Americans who have been tortured/killed in police custody (e.g. Freddie Gray). In fact, one of the main officers involved in the torture of inmates at Guantanamo had been using the same methods as a Chicago Detective for 30 years. The city of Chicago recently reached a $5.5 million settlement with 57 victims of torture at the hands of Chicago police officers. Where is the outrage over this? Why is the torture of detainees at Guantanamo any more reprehensible than the torture of African Americans in police custody? APA psychologists may not be colluding with these police practices but by turning a blind eye, we are at best maintaining the status quo.
I call on the APA to respond as vigorously to the murder, torture and mass shootings of African Americans as they have to the Orlando tragedy. I ask the APA Board to explain its prior lack of response.
Editor’s Note: APAGS appreciates the diverse voices of our guest editors. Prior to publication, APAGS communicated with the author of this post these details regarding some of the work APA has done around police brutality and racial issues in policing (and we thought they may be useful to our readers as well):
- Mass Incarceration, Police-Community Relations among Priorities for APA in Justice Department Budget
- APA Continues Advocacy to Eliminate Racial Profiling
- APA Written Statement for President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing
- APA Testimony Highlighting Psychology’s Insights into Police-Community Relations
- APA Testimony on Militarization of Police Forces
- Presidential Programming on the 6 Pillars of 21st Century Policing
- Learn how to be a better ally by taking the Ally Challenge