The recent shooting of a behavioral health specialist Charles Kinsey in Miami brought gun violence to an intimate spot for those of us who are clinicians. As the story unfolded it turned out that the officer was aiming to shoot an autistic client, whom he thought posed a danger. The worker tried to protect his client and ultimately was the one who was shot. Luckily in this case Mr. Kinsey was not killed.
When there are violent shootings I make it a point to check in with my clients to see how it has affected them. The other day I saw a client who is transitioning from female to male. He is also African American. We know that African American men are disproportionately shot and killed by white men, regardless of the situation. I found his response to be quite poignant when he reflected “I was frightened when I lived as a Black lesbian, but now I am even more frightened because I am now a Black transgender man. I am frightened because I am a double candidate for hate crimes. I am so tired of living in a body that doesn’t really represent who I am. I am tired of hating my body and I feel more together than I have through my life. At the same time I am acutely aware of being unsafe and hated as a Black man.”
What can we do as both clinical and macro social workers? One suggestion is that clinicians must consider speaking with their clients regarding the violence, barrage of media negativity, and systemic inequalities that are occurring. I have recognized in my private practice that many of my clients have a response that would not have been shared if I had not asked. Upon learning about violence and hate crimes in the media, some clients show secondary traumatization and can become re-stimulated by past events. Additionally, some of the media is so intense that it can cause a stress response that until the client speaks about it their discomfort can grow in magnitude.
There are other clinical issues that may arise and it would be useful to share what you are learning and seeing in the field with colleagues at one of NASW-Michigan’s work groups or on one of our social media platforms.
At a macro level we, as social workers, can take the lead in setting up dialogue between community and law enforcement agencies. We can work with other community leaders to collaborate on community gatherings. If you are interested in getting involved please contact our office at 517-487-1548 or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can provide assistance.
As social workers we must not be passive in our work. We need to lead community discussions, provide safety in exploration with our clients, work with our legislators, within our association, and to remember that multiple voices can make a difference.
Maxine Thome PhD, LMSW, ACSW, MPH
Executive Director, National Association of Social Workers-Michigan Chapter