This is a multimedia project about the cycle of psychological trauma in gangs and its effect on a community. High-crime neighborhoods have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder rates as high as veterans returning home from combat according to mental health experts. I spent 7 months documenting the lives of the Landon family, whose son was killed in a shootout, and Jason Davis, the gang leader of the Bloods in Harlem (watch video below). Their journeys revealed trauma, despair and a blanket of darkness that continues to cripple them, their families and their community.
Ricocheting Bullets was awarded highest honors at Columbia Univerfsity Graduate School of Journalism
Ruby Landon stood motionless in her pajamas as she stared through the scotch-taped peephole. It was a few minutes past midnight on August 7th. Two police officers in navy blue uniforms were banging on the door. Her heart raced. She wrapped her long fingers around the brass handle doorknob. As she opened it one officer asked, “Do you know Travis?”
Ruby’s voice shook. “I’m his mother.”
“Well,” the officer said. “He’s been shot.”
The athletic, dark-skinned mother had always followed one motto in life: “Stay strong for the boys.” She had four sons. Joe, 26, was the eldest. He usually worked two jobs, one as a Harlem tour guide and the other as an after-school mentor for kids. He also sang in the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni Ensemble. Then there were the twins, 23 year-old Christopher and Kevin, who started an arcade business in Brooklyn. The youngest, 18 year-old Travis, was the shy boy in his senior year of high school.
Ruby still carries her 6-foot-1-inch frame with the assurance of the housing officer she used to be. She’s a no-nonsense woman who prefers to go to the gym four times a week than gossip with other 61 year-olds. She had her first child at 31. She stayed with the boys’ father for 20 years before she left him- because, she said, he used crack. Ruby had always worried that her sons wouldn’t grow up to be “real men” because their father wasn’t around. “I didn’t want the boys to drop out of school, do drugs, hang out with gangs and then knock someone up,” she said. So Ruby taped a poster against the peeling paint of her cream-colored living room wall. It read, “It’s not cool. It’s not hip. To take your body. On a trip.” Her son Joe called succumbing to drugs “becoming another black statistic.”
Now the police officer, standing beneath that fading poster, told Ruby that something bad had happened to Travis. He had been at a barbeque near Bronx Community College (BCC), the oasis that Joe attended and where Travis planned to apply. In 2009, the neighborhood surrounding BCC was terrorized by over 400 felony assaults and a dozen murders.
Earlier on the evening of August 7th, two young men had gotten into a brawl at the party Travis was attending. One complained to his older brother, who then brandished a gun and pumped a volley of bullets into the crowd. One of those bullets had struck Travis in the back of the head.
By the time police gave Ruby the news a few hours later, Travis was vomiting and bleeding, fighting for his life. Ruby fumbled for her keys and called Joe, who was having a couple of drinks with his friends in SoHo. The family raced to St. Barnabas Hospital, where they sat with Travis for six hours, praying for him to live. Doctors revived him four times. After the fifth attempt they pronounced Travis Landon dead. He became one of 113 killed and 490 people shot in the Bronx that year.
Seven months after that knock on the door, no witnesses have come forward out of 50 or 60 people at that party, to identify a suspect. Probably, most fear that snitching might make one of them the next victim. Around Ruby’s house in East Tremont, West Farms and in University Avenue where Travis was shot, criminal as well as local street gangs fight other gangs for territory, status and respect.
Detective Dwayne Farmer of the 46th precinct, whose been investigating Travis’ murder says, “Eventually someone will talk. They always do.” Perhaps. But the unresolved loss of Travis, combined with ongoing violence in the neighborhood, has taken a physical and mental toll on the Landon family. Joe complains of chest pains and spends weekends sleeping behind shuttered blinds because he doesn’t want to face the world. He says he’s angrier and these unresolved feelings have “handicapped” him in all spheres of his life. Ruby tries to remain resilient in her own way but lives in isolation. She wants someone to blame, but no one has been found.
For over two decades, psychiatrists David Grand, a doctor who travels around the world and inner cities using his invention, Brainspotting, to locate and heal trauma in the brain and Jonathan Shay, an influential combat trauma expert at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston, say people like Ruby and Joe, who live in high-crime neighborhoods, could be suffering from a mental condition: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They join veterans, natural disaster victims and terrorism survivors whose witness to violence may lead them to suffer from crippling psychological injuries.
Seven months after Travis’ murder, Ruby’s large eyes glaze over as she sits on her son’s bed, looking out the bedroom window onto the low-income apartments that shelter livelihoods riddled with crime and economic despair. Until a few years ago, when he got his own room, Travis slept next to her on a bunk-bed, three thumbs apart from his mother’s queen-size mattress. Ruby says she wakes up in the middle of the night and imagines hearing a pair of keys jingle. She thinks it’s Travis returning from the barbecue and getting into bed. When asked if she cries anymore Ruby toughens: “It’s not good for the kids.”
But Travis’ ribbed-black turtleneck is still spread across the unsteady futon in the living room-turned bedroom. Ruby wears his blue flannel pajamas when she goes out during the day. A pile of dusty video games remain on top of the television, a clue that an avid gamer was once here. His black leather shoes lie on top of the blue boxes they came in. The curtains dance around the pair, as a steady draft of chilly wind leaves Ruby unaffected. The scent of fresh unworn leather wafts, jolting her back to past memories of walking with Travis. “He used to miss me so much when I’d drop him off at school,” she says.
The failure to identify Travis’ shooter has made Ruby more anxious. She now fears her sons will be snatched from her the same way Travis was. In October, when Joe was singing with the Choir in China, she got a call from an unknown number, a Chinese restaurant who dialed Ruby by accident. Her heart raced. “I just thought right away that maybe Joe had died in a plane crash,” she says.
Meanwhile, Travis’ older brother Joe thought he could postpone feeling the pain of his brother’s death. He hoped he’d be able to grieve and move on once the police put his brother’s killer behind bars.
While there is still some controversy within military circles, most people associate veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD, a condition that inhibits getting back to regular life after a frightening event. Flashbacks, irritability, numbness, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and hyper vigilance are all but a few symptoms associated with PTSD. The kinds of problems Ruby and her son Joe describe, fall within the range of PTSD, experts who have worked with victims say.
And during a given year, 5.2 million adults in the U.S. will also suffer from it, according to the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD), an education and research agency within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They also say that people living in inner cities are more likely to suffer from the mental condition. Research by Jessica Hamblen, a clinical psychiatrist and the deputy director for education at the NCPTSD, reported that as many as 35 percent of urban youth living in violent neighborhoods could have PTSD. In her report, Children and Adolescents, she stated that in addition to becoming less focused and more aggressive, “They may also engage in play that compulsively reenacts the violence.”
Families like the Landons are continuously exposed to crime and loss. While the killing of a child is the most heartbreaking, friends and acquaintances also become victims, which increases the chances of developing PTSD. Over the last eight years, shootings are up 16 percent, according to Ed Talty, head of the Bronx district attorney’s Homicide and Gang Bureau.
Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay won the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award in 2007 for bringing a greater understanding of “psychological injury” in his books, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and The Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. Shay sees a similarity between soldiers and victims of urban warfare: “If the urban gangs claim sovereign territory and they go to war in much the way nation states go to war, I see no absurdity in applying what one learns from soldiers and veterans to this setting.”
Across High Bridge, in Harlem, you’ll find 29 year-old Jason Davis, or “J” as he’s called, chain-smoking Newport cigarettes and chewing Trident gum. J is gang leader of the Original Blood Brothers, a chapter of the Los Angeles-based Bloods gang, notorious for their bitter rivalry with the Crips gang since the early 70s.
Convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, J is considered an “OG”, Original Gangster, sainthood in gang-speak. He has robbed, shot, stabbed and probably killed, although he’s reluctant to admit it now.
As an OG, he’s someone with influence over the gangs of New York. He knows which gangs run what blocks, when it’s safe to walk the streets and the where his scouts should position themselves to effectively protect Lincoln Projects. These days, J’s been watching gangs grow with trepidation because he’s worried too many kids are turning to them.
“You see little kids doing five damn years in prison, and they come out and say, “Hey I’m just trying to be like you.” And I’m like “Damn. What you want to be like me for? I barely got $50 in my back pocket.””
J says kids are angrier than they used to be because they are neglected and abused at home.
J says his father was a drunk who also “hustled” on the streets selling drugs. “He’d beat me with a belt until I curled into a ball and fell asleep,” he said. J thought that maybe he was abused as a child because he was too playful, and considered it, a form of love. And since then, J’s unleashed his mental pain onto his victims and himself. Over the last year, he’s been trying to deal with years of self-mutilation and substance abuse-it’s been his way of trying to end his life.
In 2008, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki confirmed that 18 veterans commit suicide everyday. And in the urban wars at home, gangsters on the frontlines are, in much the same way, playing a game of Russian roulette with their lives. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported that among black men aged 15 to 24, homicide is the leading cause of death. Suicide is the third. For black women, homicide is the second leading cause of death.
Psychiatrist David Grand has helped heal combat veterans and natural disaster victims. In his reality show, “Trauma Doc,” Grand helps Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 survivors process their unresolved trauma. He has also worked with gangsters like J and says young children who grow up surrounded by violence are more likely to commit crimes:
“If you’re looking at gang members, they almost universally come out of traumatic backgrounds with emotional or psychical deprivation which affects their development. Once they join gangs, they then get exposed to a higher level of traumatic experiences, that can lead to psychological injury, that can lead to violence.”
About seven percent of all Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the NCPTSD. Among the groups that the organization lists as especially at risk, are non-Whites who live in poor inner cities that have an exposure to gangs. In these environments, people experience death, assault and widespread sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. The rate of PTSD for at-risk groups is about 30 percent, matching the levels of those soldiers returning from combat zones. Among urban youth that number is as high as 35 percent according to the Center.
But few people can or will seek help. “The cruel irony is that these communities are places that need it the most and have the least services to help depression and trauma,” says Grand. That leaves young children who grow up on the streets looking to find support in gangs, as J did. The gang leader and the Landon family are two strangers who are wrapped up in a cycle of gang violence and psychological trauma that Grand says will destroy entire neighborhoods. “If you look at impoverished communities,” Grand points out, “There is a great deal of deprivation and violence. You get an entire community suffering from symptoms of depression and anxiety. It becomes a collective and individual experience.”
Born and raised in Lincoln Projects, J calls himself a “project baby.” He credits growing up in the projects for giving him his street sensibility and toughness. These qualities helped him rise through the ranks to gang leader of the Original Blood Brothers, a chapter of the well-known Bloods.
J chews Pina Colada flavored gum when he’s not puffing one of 20 menthol cigarettes a day. At a gang meeting in Harlem, he breathes in deeply, sits back and watches the clouds of smoke dance off his lips and into the air. The cigarettes and gum replaced the Endo Percocets and OxyCotin painkillers and the overpowering cognac, Grand Marnier. “You don’t want to see J on anything else,” gang member and cousin Eliot warns.
J says he joined a gang to fight other bullies. His mother Rion Davis, who works for the New York Department of Health, remembers J’s cousins bursting into the house screaming that 11-year-old J had stayed back to fend off some 30 to 40 gangsters who wanted to hurt him after he got into a fight with one of them. “The smartest thing I’ve ever done is take the punch and walk away,” he says.
When he was 13, J began to shoot guns across rooftops. It’s what he calls “mischief.” Two years later, doctors told J he had he could no longer play his favorite sport, baseball, because he had scoliosis, a disorder where the spine curves.
So at 16, J turned to the streets to look for a sense of protection and validation. “We looked up to gangsters in the street and drug leaders on the block,” he says. By then, he felt that being a man meant being numb, fearless, and aggressive- attributes necessary to join the Bloods.
In order to pass the Blood’s initiation test, J beat up a man with brass knuckles. Tests like these, held whenever a gang feels the need to network and grow, are responsible for the outbursts of violence in many communities. In 2008, the NYPD advised schools to close in advance of the night of mayhem.
After proving his loyalty to the gang by showing both aggression and restraint in fights, J was promoted to “Enforcer” or commanding general of the foot soldiers. Looking back on his success J says, “I was excited. You get to channel that hatred and anger towards somebody directly.” Under his rule, members had a stash of guns instead of personal ones, so they could throw it away to avoid getting caught. He also made sure they didn’t look like gangsters. “They had to look well-dressed and sometimes we’d take children around with us so that the police wouldn’t think we were gangbangers,” he says.
J went to Catholic school and because of his mother he had one foot in the street – and the other in college. J and his brother, Justin, enrolled in Delaware State University and studied accounting. But as the death toll of friends mounted, J abandoned school and the therapist he was seeing and began to depend on the gang for support. He says the gang leaders valued his academic background. Soon, he was organizing meetings, fundraisers and alliances with other gangs from across the country. In 2001, the leaders stepped aside and anointed J “President” or leader of the Original Blood Brothers.
His big moment to make an example out of someone and elevate the status of the gang came in 2003, J’s junior year of college. To retaliate against another Blood, whom J said attacked an old lady, he stabbed the man 16 times, but he lived.
J’s mother was in “utter disbelief” when he called to tell her that he was a wanted man. Until then, she thought J just hung out with gangs for protection. He spent the next 5 and half years on the run. No one snitched him out, he said, because they were too scared. He couldn’t be near his family – a girlfriend of 7 years or his three children. He stopped using credit cards, avoided cops, and worst of all, J said, he couldn’t sign his real name. Then, in 2008, he was caught and charged with conspiracy to commit second-degree murder. “The day I was caught I was smiling. I finally got to sign my name in prison.” He served one year.
J’s years as a criminal gangster defined his reputation but they also haunt him. He became depressed and turned his violence inward to numb the pain of lives lost-and taken. His brother Justin says, “[J] used to ask me to keep punching him over and over again.” He began to resort to the same destructive behavior he had as a child when he used to stick his fingers in electrical sockets to numb his emotional and mental pain.
As an adult, J found what tools he could, quarters, wire hangers, razors and cigarettes to slash and burn his body like a canvas.
The NCPTSD calls this “self-harm” and reports that very little is known about it. What several studies have found is that people who directly destroy their bodies have unusually high rates of childhood physical abuse and neglect and could be suffering from psychological injuries, including PTSD.
Lanky Joe Landon is 6 foot 4 inches with a goofy sense of humor. He’s got an inviting smile like his mother who says his bookworm qualities always made him appear more together than most kids his age. Two weeks after Travis died, Joe was back at work at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center, and the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem.
Walk around Harlem and this history buff will point out where Malcolm X took center stage and the problems Harlem is facing today. Children who misbehave at the back of the group may find themselves writing a one-page apology.
The night that Travis was killed haunts Joe because he can’t forgive himself for the words he muttered. His mother just told him Travis had been in an altercation; she didn’t say he’d been shot. At first, Joe was furious that his brother had to interrupt his one night out with his friends. He remembers thinking to himself; “I will kill him if he isn’t hurt.”
The flashbacks are becoming more severe, as the months unfold with no justice for Travis. On January 11th, Travis would have turned 19. Experts say these events can exacerbate PTSD. Joe is now struggling when he’s alone, with family and the community. “I just don’t want to be seen in public anymore,” he said one night in winter when he skipped his performance with the choir.
Nine people in Joe’s life have died since 2005.
“ One way or another, [death] comes at me or someone I love like a disease,” he says. “Maybe this is God trying to say I should come home.”
Joe’s beard has grown out and his thin frame seems gaunt. His earrings glow in the sun, matching his navy blue sweater vest and checkered shirt. When he’s not hard at work, Joe finds solace in his music. He never leaves home without his iPod, headphones and some Motown music playing. He also plays the bass guitar but since August he’s lost the motivation to play with other bands and perform because Joe says he can’t find the energy to do much at all.
Since October, Joe has spent most of his nights locking himself up in his apartment in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, and sleeping. “This has really handicapped me mentally, emotionally and physically,” he says. Joe complains of chest pain, shoulder aches and continuous bouts of asthma attacks.
Psychiatrist David Grand believes that frozen trauma in the brain has both psychological and physical effects on the body. “It literally has to do with physiology, which part of the brain reacts most to the trauma,” he says. And the NCPTSD reports that 15 to 35 percent of the patients who complain of the chronic conditions that Joe says he has may also have PTSD.
These emotional, mental and physical symptoms are affecting Joe’s professional life too. Neal Shoemaker, his boss at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center, is worried that Joe isn’t dealing with his grief. The kids at the after-school program have noticed a change in Joe too. His supervisor advised him to see a grief counselor, but Joe says therapy is for the weak. “It’s like this,” he says. “Don’t cry over spilled milk. Wipe it off the floor and move on.” Still, whenever he watches a football or baseball game, Joe remembers Travis. “We used to call each other up and just talk about sports.” His voice softens, “I miss him. I love him.”
Joe only goes to visit his mother for an hour each month because she hasn’t put Travis’ things away. He says it’s just too painful. When Joe went home in October, his mother says he just wept. “Imagine, I’m holding a grown man in my arms as he just cries for his brother.” Joe says, “I just sat there. Waiting and hoping that maybe Travis would come back.”
Travis’ friends aren’t doing any better. Some of them are frustrated that the police haven’t solved their friend’s murder. They are looking for his killer.
Kaheem Leary, a childhood friend of Travis’ still wears his friend’s favorite number “11” on his clothes because it makes him laugh. “Can you believe it?” he asks. “Travis was 6 foot 4 and didn’t know how to play basketball,” he chuckles. Yet when Leary heard Travis’ was dead, he said he vomited for three days straight. “I think about Travis everyday.”
Driven by grief, he’s turned to a group of friends he and Travis hung out with to find his friend’s killer. They call themselves the BMG, which stands for Burnside Money Gettin’. Located two blocks from Ruby’s apartment, Burnside Avenue was the hang out spot for local kids. According to Leary and Bronx DA Talty, who specializes in gang homicide, BMG is a harmless street gang that operates in an area with larger and more criminal gangs.
Joe and J say that gangs are woven in the fabric of inner city life. “Who doesn’t know someone who’s in a gang?” Joe asks. “I hung out with them. That doesn’t make me a gang member. It makes me a comrade.”
Leary says that BMG is trying to find out who shot Travis. But experts warn that if revenge is part of the plan, it can lead to more violence and psychological trauma4.
Terrie Williams is one of the most successful publicists in the county. Since 1988, she’s represented black celebrities like Eddie Murphy, Miles Davis and Mo’Nique. Now she’s turned her attention to the problem of depression in the black community. She’s the author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting. A clinical social worker by training, Williams suffered severe bouts of depression before she began a personal mission to educate the African American community about mental health issues. She’s particularly concerned about black male teenagers because they are their own leading cause of death.
“Depression and trauma can mask themselves as anger,” she says. ”We express frustration and homicide as a way to flip impulses.” Williams says adolescents are at a greater risk of suffering from psychological injuries because their worldview still hasn’t formed. Referring to BMG she adds,
“Someone needs to ask these boys, “How they’re doing,” not “What they’re doing.””
J says that he wishes somebody had asked him that question. “I used to get people asking, “What’s wrong with you?”” So at a young age, J learned to numb his feelings even when something wasn’t going right at home.
J says he learned to gangbang from his father who, he says, would take him out of school to work the streets with him. He said, “This was my training off the streets, one on one.” But he also had a tumultuous relationship with his father.
“I got beaten up by my drunk father when my mother wasn’t there to get the beating,” he says. J says his father busted his lip and made his nose bleed. “He then took off his belt to beat me into a ball. I fell asleep curled up into a ball. He woke me up as usual after his high wore down to say how sorry he was. Never once did I tell my mother.” When J knocked on his father’s door in December to ask to see his brother, there was a stiff greeting and little small talk.
One of J’s most vivid memories is of a childhood friend, who he asked to remain anonymous. His friend had a thin winter coat but it wasn’t warm enough. J and his friend took turns sharing J’s coat and sometimes he’d give it to him for the night. But J knew he there would be consequence at home. He says he got such bad beatings that, “[He’d have to] sleep for the whole day.”
J did find some help. He met Terrie Williams who was promoting positive mental health awareness in the African American community through speeches and campaigns. “Terrie helped me feel like a human being,” he says, referring to how Williams’ gave J a platform talk about his life to young teens.
So when J was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in March 2008, he spent the next 15 months contemplating his role as gang leader and gained a newfound awareness about why he had become violent. When he got out of jail he decided to do something. The first step was to kick out the 400 violent members that were in his gang. They wound up joining other gangs. He kept 15 gang members who were related to his family or were close friends. They would stop selling drugs, start cleaning up parks and prevent kids on the streets from turning to gangs.
But J says it hasn’t been easy. On the one hand he doesn’t wear red and green, the colors of the Bloods. Yet he remains affiliated with them and calls them his family.
When asked why he’s still gang leader J responds, “You have to be in a gang for these kids to respect you. I can go up to them and say, I did all that stuff and it’s not worth it.” On the streets, J is perceived as charismatic and because of his rap sheet and status, a man with power. And there’s also another reason he leads: he’s trusted in his community. J’s often the first to be called when there’s a domestic abuse case and no one wants to call the cops. He adds, “The law can’t penetrate these gangs and this system, only we know what’s going on.”
The Landon family also feels that they can’t trust law enforcement agencies, while Travis’ murder remains unsolved. But they also feel let down by the community around them because no witnesses have come forward to identify their son’s killer.
It’s been seven months since Travis died and with little media reporting and two police officers on the case, the Landon family feels betrayed by society. Joe says his brother is treated as “another John Doe” or “black statistic”.
While the Landon family is not very religious, in the fall, they turned to the church as a place of comfort. But with little or no justice for Travis, by winter, his father Joseph McLauren echoed the diminishing faith the family has in God and the community they grew up in. ”I just can’t believe that the friends that my son thought he had just aren’t helping solve the case,” he says.
In 2004, psychiatrist Shay served as Chair of Ethics, Leadership, and Personnel Policy in the Office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. He says one of the most dangerous elements of trauma is “moral injury.” Moral injury arises when there’s a sense of betrayal, either from society, or an authoritative institution like the government, in situation where someone is dealing with death of a loved one or a comrade. Moral injury can rise in the following: if someone feels that a crime could have been prevented, a crime hasn’t been solved by the institutions in place to protect you, or there is an overarching fear that the world is unsafe and harm could come at any time.
Ruby says she’s tried to call Travis’ friends but some of them have changed numbers. Those four friends interviewed are suspicious of ”outsiders” and getting involved with unsolved street crimes, because they fear there might be bad consequences. Joe acknowledges this and says, ”My brother’s [killing] is part of the street code. Regardless of what you know, you don’t snitch anybody out else you could be next.”
Shay says this kind of moral injury is also common in gang members like J: “If a member of a gang believes that a close comrade was carelessly or callously sacrificed in a fight by a gang leader, the kind of psychological injury might be very much the same as a soldier who felt a friend had been sent into danger by a leader.”
With an inherent distrust for government institutions, a local community board in the Bronx has tried to assume responsibility for the recent increase in shootings that have traumatized the community.
Psychotherapist Grand, who wrote Emotional Healing at Warp Speed, says not enough is being done in the sphere of public mental health in high-crime communities. Grand says what’s worse is that people normalize their exposure to violence and therefore their approach to healing psychological injury. “People are walking around like zombies because they think that’s the way life should be,” he says.
In her book, Williams wrote that 92 percent of depressed African Americans will not seek treatment. But it’s not just because of the stigma associated with getting help and the weak safety net of hospitals, community health centers and local health departments in low-income communities. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2001 report, Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity, nearly one in four African Americans are uninsured. The number of African Americans working on mental health issues in the community is roughly two percent. The report stated, “Minorities have less access to, and availability of, mental health services.” It further notes, “Minorities in treatment often receive a poorer quality of mental health care.”
A life of psychological injury can be one of pain for an individual, a family and a community. There is no substitute for individual trauma counseling but if someone isn’t willing or cannot seek help there are alternatives solutions that may help ease the pain.
Doctor Shay says the first solution to coping with psychological injury is sleep. “Every hour of extra waking or missed sleep drains the tank and when you’re completely out of gas in your frontal lobe there are a whole bunch of things that you can’t process like trauma, restraint against anger, and emotional and ethical intelligence.”
And for those gang members perpetuating violence, Shay also has a simple question that can be asked when trying to diagnose their mental state:
“It turns out that the majority of symptoms that fit the description of PTSD survivors like, hyper vigilance and shutting down of emotions are in fact survival mechanisms.”
He says that the most basic question psychologists need to ask gang members is, “Are you still in danger?”
For families, it is important to talk to children about growing up in urban environments. Reducing the proximity to stressors like verbal, emotional and physical abuse may prevent long-term PTSD. The NYPD and Safe Horizon, an organization that provides assistance to victims of violence and abuse, reports that on average police respond to 650 domestic violence incidents per day. And according to the federal report Child Maltreatment 2007, figures for the country and for New York State reveal that more than 70,000 New York State children are abused and neglected every year.
In addition to providing adequate love, support and acceptance, experts strongly advise trauma counseling for them. From an individual, their family and their community- all spheres of life impact how a person develops and copes with trauma.
In January 2010, Community Board 6, which governs the area where Travis was shot, took action to address the growing fears of its residents that shootings were on the rise. Schools had complained of hearing multiple gunshots and youngsters said in one week they heard three gunshots. “A Call for Peace in Community Board 6” brought together Bronx politicians, doctors, families of victims of gun violence and J.
Shay says this process of “communalization” is also a healing mechanism, which involves the re-telling of someone’s trauma. “The final closure of that cycle is for the person to re-tell their story with enough authenticity that the trauma survivor is able to say, “Yes, that’s exactly what happened.””
Ruby and Joe didn’t attend the community board event because they didn’t think it would help them get over Travis’ death. In December, Neal Shoemaker, Joe’s boss of 10 years at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center, fired Joe. “I just can’t be therapist, entrepreneur, pay my bills, and save the world,” he said. Joe says he doesn’t hold any grudges. He says, “I still respect him.” But now Joe says he’s fallen on hard economic times. “I eat one meal a day if I’m lucky now.”
Joe has opened up to the idea of seeing a counselor after his friends worried about him. On March 5th, Joe decided to open the curtains and step out for the weekend. He went to the movies in Times Square, and even though a bunch of loud kids angered him by disrupting the movie, he’s very happy he’s gone out.
Ruby is still asking Detective Farmer for regular updates on her son’s murder case. She also wants police to find and return the clothes and possessions Travis was carrying the night he was shot. Travis’ black turtleneck remains spread out on the bed. Everything is exactly where it was the night he was killed. Ruby says,
“I just want to look at my son’s killer in the eyes and ask, “What did my son ever do wrong to you?””
The Landon family still hopes that the police might catch Travis’ killer. Until then the new motto has been “I’m taking it day by day.”
Gang leader J still patrols the streets looking for kids bunking school so that he can send them back. He works from three to eleven five days a week at a private foster care for delinquent kids in upstate New York. J hasn’t cut himself for the last four months but he takes about three painkillers a day to deal with the scoliosis. Next month he’ll be off probation and he hopes to get insurance so that he can afford surgery to alleviate the pain.
On February 20th, his fourth child, Zackery Hunter Davis, was born.