“They shot the person running with an AK-47 right in front of me,” said Jacqueline Ah-Low, Newark Police Department chaplain.
It was a harrowing crime and one of the stories shared by Newark Police officers, Paterson school teachers and others undergoing trauma training. Equal Justice USA conducts the sessions called the Police/Community Initiative on Trauma-Informed Responses to Violence.
“I see a real gap in understand the use trauma of trauma as a frame of analysis for getting past this ‘us versus them’ with police and community. I think by understand trauma on both sides, transformation is possible,” said Fatimah Loren Muhammad, Equal Justice USA Trauma Advocacy Initiative director.
The participants come seeking the tools to deal with trauma.
“And of course as you treat people with trauma you experience it,” said Lauren Flast, Rutgers University student.
“We need to meet people where they are, one. Two, it’s not possible all the time to meet people where they are, and prayer is not the only thing because everybody don’t pray,” said Debra Russell, Broadway House for Continuing Care counselor.
“Sometimes on a daily basis I have to talk to teachers about the fact that it’s not the kids’ behaviors, most of these kids have already experienced multiple traumas. Some of them are experiencing trauma on a daily or weekly basis and it’s being able to prevent those behaviors in those kids and help them and help their families so that we’re not suspending kids,” said Jill Welch, a social worker at Newark Public Schools.
The participants take the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire to assess whether they’ve experienced any trauma. Equal Justice defines trauma and then puts it in categories.
“It’s really the adverse effects that are long lasting we’re talking about, right?” said Muhammad.
They named them. Pastor Will Brown from Shekinah Glory Christian Church spoke of what he saw one summer at the former Seth Boyden Public Housing.
“Just so many different things that, like I said, it was normal. Dead bodies laying out and people just walking past like it wasn’t nothing,” said Brown .
Some police officers revealed they suffer trauma responding to some crimes, but fear the stigma and more if they seek help.
“In the blink of an eye, you can lose your 21 years just because you said, ‘I need help,’ said Newark Police Department officer Maria Lebron.
This is the first of three, five-hour sessions on trauma and already it’s making a difference on some of the participants.
“We’re getting a better understanding of each other, just us in the room,” said Victoria Manning, youth advocate for the Future Potential YouthOutCry.
When asked if she sees “aha” moments, Muhammad replied, “I see it all the time. It moves me to tears.”