Few things in life are harder than witnessing a person you love die a little each day and knowing you don’t have a cure. That’s exactly what it felt like to be in a relationship with a man who physically survived a violent attack from a police officer but never fully recovered emotionally.
The relationship with Anthony*, my now ex-boyfriend, stemmed from our shared love of books and culture. Long before there was a “Netflix and chill,” we had nights of Nikki Giovanni and discussion. It was effortless and free. Before any form of physical intimacy occurred, we shared emotional pieces of each other.
This allowed for a natural progression in our relationship. We didn’t exactly have the “Who are we to each other? And should we exchange apartment keys?” conversation. Things just naturally flowed in that direction. We grew so close that our time together was something we prioritized. In fact, most times when we were not at work, we were with each other. Which is how I knew something was wrong when he was unreachable for a couple of days.
When he finally called me and asked me to come to his apartment, I could hear the anxiety in his voice. I nervously obliged. I paused for about five seconds at the door before turning my key. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
When I walked inside, his face made me gasp. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. His face almost looked as if he had been in a car accident. There were gashes, swollen eyes and a split lip, and so many dark bruises. He interrupted my gasp as he timidly recounted how he had been physically assaulted by an officer and arrested.
I was full of emotions, but I had too many questions. Arrested for what? Which officer? Did you get the badge number? And damn … are you OK?
He provided a vague response by shrugging and stating, “it was just dumb cop s—t.” The bruises on his face and eyes, which were nearly swollen shut, told another story. He also told me that most guys in the neighborhood had the same experiences with police officers but that the officer who had beaten him was known for “just being extra.” Like stopping you on the way to your car, aggressively questioning you about your destination and responding with brutality if you showed any type of dismay. He was even known to arrest you for a ridiculous charge like resisting arrest after beating you.
Which is exactly what Anthony experienced. It was almost unbelievable. I stopped myself from saying, “Well, you had to have done something.” That’s always the standard response when you learn about someone experiencing abuse from a person you didn’t expect to be the culprit. I wasn’t sure what to say or do, so I remained silent. In fact, we both did. And for a long time. I think I was waiting for him to respond, or maybe he was waiting for me to respond. I am not sure. I do know that the conversation sort of just stopped. We never really finished it. In fact, that is how I would describe a lot of our conversations after that. They sort of just stopped.
Thinking back, everything we did was so superficial. We tried to add some date nights to the equation. We tried to buy our way out of misery. He would buy me things, and I would buy him things. We tried to act as if nothing had happened. I told myself we were putting it behind us. The truth was, I was ignoring it. We didn’t know this at the time, but we were watching the relationship die.
He became withdrawn. He was no longer expressive, except in one way—with anger. His anger was complex. It was triggered by any situation that caused him to feel powerless. I could understand that connection. What I couldn’t understand was why he always seemed so angry with everyone … and especially me. I can only assume that I received the bulk of it because of my proximity to him.
His anger would manifest in the form of verbal attacks. Everything I did was a problem, and apparently the remedy was name-calling, screaming and cursing. At which point, remaining in the relationship was no longer an option. I recognized the root of his problem, yet that did not mean I was going to stay and allow him to verbally beat me. It’s kind of astounding how the abused sometimes mimic their abuser.
Even though I left, it took me a long time to figure out that my love wasn't potent enough to be an antidote to his “disease.”
While I was able to depart without becoming completely afflicted by the brokenness that consumed him, the depth to which police abuse affected him psychologically has not escaped me. I will never forget such a level of brokenness, one that was completely unresponsive to my love. No matter how hard I tried, I could not love that man back to health. I tried with everything that was in me. And when I ran out of strength, I borrowed some from praying friends and tried some more. When that reserve ran low, I operated on fumes. My love was tenacious. My love ran deep. His disease ran deeper.
No matter how often we discuss police brutality, we sometimes forget to factor in the depth of the psychological impact it has. We often don’t discuss the possibility that those who experienced police brutality could suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. But given how often police brutality in the black community occurs, it should be explored.
In a report from the Black Youth Project, more than 54 percent of young black people ages 15-25 (pdf) said that they had experienced or knew someone who had experienced police violence. While multiple studies have been done on this topic, I suspect that there are a number of cases that go unreported. How exactly do you determine an exact figure when some of the people most often affected are too desensitized to even label it abuse?
I don’t assume that every person who experiences police violence will suffer from some form of trauma. I can only recount what I witnessed firsthand, which was the impact of police brutality on my boyfriend … and subsequently on our relationship.
* Not his real name.
Shanita Hubbard is a mom, writer, social-justice advocate and Nas stan and is also the lover of a great twist-out and good books. Follow her on Twitter.