Sunday marked exactly one year since 18-year-old Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death ignited protests and demonstrations in the St. Louis suburb, and launched a national conversation about racism and police brutality in the United States. Research conducted at the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) has shown that members of the Ferguson community still have hope for change and progress.
Five months after Brown’s shooting, while many protests continued, the researchers collected questionnaires filled out by 287 residents of Ferguson and surrounding communities as well as 261 police officers involved in responding to the riots. UMSL psychologist Zoe Peterson shared the study’s initial results at a symposium Sunday on hope and growth in trauma recovery.
Overall, findings showed that both groups experienced significant distress from watching news coverage of the events. In addition, 25 percent of participants met DSM-5 criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and 38 percent exceeded clinical cutoff levels for depression.
Despite the trauma, more than 80 percent of Ferguson community members were somewhat or extremely hopeful that change was possible, that the situation in their community would improve, and that these positive changes would be meaningful and enduring. Law enforcement officers, however, reported significantly less hope — only about 50 percent felt that positive change was possible and would endure. The team is now conducting additional follow-up with both groups to see how things fare a year after the event.
“What happens in the aftermath of trauma is really important to promoting growth,” said Richard Tedeschi, PhD, psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the symposium’s discussant. “Helping this community process this trauma and develop some kind of meaning from it is very much needed to ensure positive change endures.”