Chicago Torture Justice Center addresses trauma in communities of color

CHICAGO-Healing Illinois grantee Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC) has developed two new trainings to help people dealing with trauma caused by police violence.

Cindy Eigler, CTJC'S executive director, wants the trainees to be able to help support others in the community. Trainings began at the end of 2020 and will run at regular intervals as long as demand is there.

Race-Based Trauma 101 is designed to train the community members to recognize trauma and learn accessible practices to address it. Families of those killed by police, organizers against police violence, and survivors of police violence themselves will benefit from this training.

The other training, the Politicized Healing Collective, is a cohort of front-line organizers and community leaders who are working on state and structural violence and who are directly impacted by it. They will be trained to integrate awareness and politicized healing practices into their work to help themselves, their communities, and each other.

Opened in 2017 on the South Side of Chicago, CTJC offers psychological and physical therapies to help those impacted by police brutality.

Mark Clements has experienced trauma, having survived torture at the hands of police when he was 16-years-old. He has benefited from every CTJC service-including acupuncture, massage therapy, craniosacral therapy, and trauma counseling. "They could have a program to ride a bike, and I'd get it into that," he says. Each service "gives me the opportunity to see out of a lens that brings some kind of hope."

A report by USA Today says the physical responses of trauma survivors live in the brain. These physical responses, such as increased heart rate or uncontrollable crying, can resurface whenever feelings of danger, uncontrollability or unpredictability are triggered. (1)

Clements reflects on his trauma. "Your body feels like a rock because you carry around invisible weights, and those weights never fall."

As a CTJC organizer, when he educates members of his community on how to recognize trauma, he points out that the effects are there even if "there's no charges brought against a person." He pushes back against a certain line of thinking where one might say, "'The police beat me. Now I can run in the house and stay in the house for two or three days, and everything is going to be OK.'"

Eigler also wants CTJC participants, many of whom are organizers against police violence, to understand that being well is also "understanding that our health and well-being are inherently political. We want to raise the question for movements of what kinds of change are possible when we are well."

The community in which CTJC sits has historically contended with what Eigler says is police violence, in addition to poverty, unemployment and criminalization processes. The trauma is ongoing because these conditions are persistent, Eigler says.

"There's not a moment where it ends and then you start to recover," she added. "It's always potentially there, and the threat is perpetually there."

Even in mundane experiences, such as exiting a building, a survivor's trauma response may be triggered.

"When you leave the center on the South Side of Chicago in Englewood, you see 100 police cars right away. We know that the ongoing threat of violence against Black folks from the police is ever-present."

CTJC co-founder Joey Mogul sees circumstances surrounding trauma on multiple levels. Formerly incarcerated people face stigma while building a new life. Before that comes a long line of difficult experiences:

"So many people who are violated by the police then have to suffer from what I consider cover-up charges that occur where they are then prosecuted by police officers, often based on false allegations in order to try to cover up the torture and physical abuse and violence that they endured. This then often leads to them having not only to go through the criminal legal system and sometimes being incarcerated, but they also have to suffer that trauma of going through those systems and dealing with the torture and trauma that occurs during incarceration."

Eigler is clear on CJTC's priorities, which she says are also multifaceted.

"We can't just do the healing work over here. The healing work has to happen in tandem with the organizing work to dismantle and stop the systems of harm."

References

1. Dastagir, Alia E. "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Explaining Something about Trauma. Experts Say We Should Listen." USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 3 Feb. 2021, www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/02/02/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-trauma-and-why-survivors-cant-just-forget/4355687001/

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