The family of Jordan Edwards is absolutely right.
"Not only have Jordan's brothers [Vidal and Kevon] lost their best friend; they witnessed firsthand his violent, senseless, murder," a statement from the family reads. "Their young lives will forever be altered. No one, let alone young children, should witness such horrific, unexplainable, violence."
Traumatic events of this magnitude can be overwhelming in the short-term. And the after-effects often persist over many months or years. These effects can be psychological, taking the form of shock, anger, anxiety, guilt, withdrawal or feelings of hopelessness. And they can be physical: insomnia, agitation, aches and pains, muscle tension or a racing heartbeat.
According to recent reports, this tragedy is already deeply and negatively affecting Vidal and Kevon. His parents say, "Our teenage sons can't sleep at night. They are either sleeping in the bed with us or sleeping with all the lights on. When they fall asleep they are having night terrors of seeing their brother murdered right there in front of them."
This kind of trauma never truly leaves a person, but with the right support, healing is possible. In fact, as experts in supporting survivors of crime and abuse, at Safe Horizon we know that immediate, skilled intervention can greatly reduce the long-term effects of traumatic events.
However, the painful reality is that, although more likely than other groups to experience violence, boys and young men of color—like Jordan's brothers—rarely receive this kind of support. And without that support, they often suffer in ways that are absolutely preventable. That's why Safe Horizon is taking a focused look at strengthening our services for boys and young men of color who have been harmed by crime and abuse.
The mistrust of the systems designed to protect boys and young men of color, as a result of their lived experience, is a theme that persists in this work. And it’s a barrier for many to their safety and healing.
In this case, Roy Oliver, the officer who shot and killed Jordan Edwards, has since been fired after an internal investigation determined he "had violated numerous department policies." Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber also went on record and said "I don’t believe that [the shooting] met our core values." Only time will tell whether these actions are followed by a meaningful, ongoing engagement between the police department and the community to build trust and a greater sense of safety.
At Safe Horizon, we see every day how powerful it is when police and communities can work hand in hand to support survivors of violence. We see it at our child advocacy centers, when dedicated detectives take action to make an abused child’s life safer. We see it when one of our advocates accompany a police officer on a home visit to help a vulnerable victim of domestic violence to reestablish a sense of safety. Law enforcement can be a critical safety tool for survivors, and our goal is to help facilitate those collaborations, so that working with police can be a viable option for everyone who needs their help.
But let’s not lose sight that the senseless death of another young black boy is deeply painful and a family and community are in mourning. As are we.
In recent years, there has been growing awareness of the impact of violence on witnesses and community members. As a result, in the aftermath of events like the mass shootings in Newtown and Orlando, there is often a robust crisis response to those affected, both directly and indirectly. Will local trauma experts mobilize to support the people of Balch Springs, and specifically the young people most affected by this tragedy?
Too often, young people just like Jordan's brothers, friends and community are left alone with their pain. As a society, we need to acknowledge that these boys and men deserve healing, offering authentic support, recognizing their right to name their own experiences, and accepting their normal reactions to the hurt they've experienced.
No one should have to deal with trauma alone.
Rest In Peace, Jordan Edwards.
As Safe Horizon’s CEO, I certainly don’t do this work alone. I work in partnership with our national experts. This article was co-written with Dr. Lisa O’ Connor, Safe Horizon’s deputy program officer. In addition to overseeing a number of programs, she leads Safe Horizon’s efforts to enhance services to young boys and men of color. She has devoted most of her career to program development, research and evaluation, and policy development on behalf of vulnerable children and youth. She brings experience with child welfare, juvenile justice, substance abuse, and social policy. Dr. O’Connor received a Ph.D. from Columbia University and a BA in Psychology from Smith College.