In the Turmoil Over Race and Policing, Children Pay a Steep Emotional Price

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Cameron Sterling being comforted at a vigil near where his father, Alton, was killed by the police in Baton Rouge, La., last week. Credit Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Cameron Sterling being comforted at a vigil near where his father, Alton, was killed by the police in Baton Rouge, La., last week. Credit Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

In the past week alone, there was the 4-year-old girl in Falcon Heights, Minn., who was captured on video consoling her mother after they watched a police officer shoot the mother’s boyfriend through the window of a car. And there was the 15-year-old boy in Baton Rouge, La., who sobbed uncontrollably in front of television cameras after the similar shooting death of his father.

Then there were the four brothers, ages 12 to 17, whose mother was shot by the sniper who opened fire on officers in Dallas on Thursday night while the family was protesting police violence against blacks. The mother, who survived, threw herself atop one boy, as the others ran for their lives.

Again and again, children are finding themselves enmeshed in the country’s roiling debate over police treatment of African-Americans. The close-up views of violence, obviously traumatizing, are giving rise to a generation of young people who distrust authority, grow up well before their time and suffer nightmares that seem too real.

“As a mother, I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father,” said Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of the boy in Louisiana who sobbed over the death of his father, Alton Sterling. “That I can’t take away from him.”

While adults around them protest and demand criminal justice reform, young witnesses of the carnage are reeling from their losses and harboring pent-up depression that often comes pouring out in panic attacks and breakdowns, relatives say.

The daughter of Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by the police in Minnesota last week. Credit Eric Miller/Reuters

The daughter of Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by the police in Minnesota last week. Credit Eric Miller/Reuters

The list of young people burdened by these tumultuous times includes Tamir Rice’s teenage sister, who lost 50 pounds after watching the police shoot him in 2014; the daughter of Oscar Grant III, killed by a transit officer while lying down on a California train platform in 2009, who as a 5-year-old would ask playmates to duck when she saw the police; and the 9-year-old nephew of Sandra Bland, who began sleeping in his mother’s room after Ms. Bland’s death last year in a jail cell.

“They are aware of what’s going in the world, of how you can leave your house and you can very well end up in a body bag,” said a sister of Ms. Bland’s, Shante Needham, whose four children continue to struggle with the death of their aunt. “They watch the news. They see all the stuff going on on Facebook. And it’s sad that kids even have to think like that, that if I get stopped by the police, I may not make it home.”…

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INOVA Gallery Shows Work by Artist and ABHM Volunteer, Jenna Knapp

Jenna Knapp at the opening of her exhibition at INOVA Gallery, October 9. 2015

Jenna Knapp at the opening of her exhibition at INOVA Gallery, October 9. 2015

Jenna Knapp’s art is both her life and her work. A graduate of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Jenna is also an activist as a white ally working for racial justice in Wisconsin and the nation. INOVA Gallery in Milwaukee is exhibiting her current work as part of their Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual Artists Exhibition.

Knapp uses text, movement and video to “probe the relationship between race and media representation,” as Jessica Lynne observes in her catalogue essay. Her exhibition at INOVA includes several videos, some of them performances for the camera; a large wall drawing; and a neon sign that reads White Media Is Killing Us.

A neon sign and looping video message, part of Knapp's exhibit, at the entrance to the gallery.

A neon sign and looping video message, part of Knapp’s exhibit, at the gallery’s entrance.

Jenna is concerned with the way mainstream and social media perpetuate stereotypes of African Americans. “When another Black body hits the pavement, the media dig up mug shots instead of yearbook photos. These messages leave the majority of Americans believing that dark skin signals thug, criminal, and danger. When Dylann Roof (a white man) kills nine members of the Black congregation, the news uses descriptors like “gunman” or “shooter,” minimizing the hate crime….The media tends to create an “echo chamber,” where we are exposed principally to people who agree with us.”

Knapp’s art challenges us to think more deeply about what we absorb from the media,  raising questions rather than providing answers.

A scene from one of her videos, a performance in which Knapp revisits Milwaukee sites of mass protests of the killing of unarmed black man Dontre Hamilton. This time she is there alone, holding a sign that is a green screen, i.e. a sign on which passersby project their own thoughts and feelings.

A scene from one of her videos, a performance in which Knapp revisits Milwaukee sites of mass protests of the killing of unarmed black man Dontre Hamilton. This time she is there alone, holding a sign that is a green screen, i.e. a sign on which passersby project their own thoughts and feelings.

As part of her activism, Jenna has served ABHM in several capacities as a volunteer. Most recently she chaired the Crowd Funding Committee that successfully raised funds to publish a new illustrated and annotated edition of A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story by ABHM Founder, Dr. James Cameron. She also shot and produced videos for the campaign.

Knapp’s exhibit can be experienced here:

INOVA Gallery 

2155 N. Prospect Ave, Milwaukee WI

October 9, 2015 through January 9, 2016 

INOVA showcases emerging forms of multidisciplinary contemporary art— dynamic work that often resides in between and outside of conventional genres. Each project and exhibition includes collaboration with UWM partners and community organizations, providing opportunities for exchange between exhibiting artists, university scholars and scientists, local artists, and the larger community of Milwaukee.

A wall drawing in Knapp's exhibition.

A wall drawing in Knapp’s exhibition.