The longstanding problem of racial tension between law enforcement and African-Americans has been underscored in recent months by the highly publicized killings of Blacks at the hands of the police. These killings, under questionable circumstances, have precipitated upheavals in urban neighborhoods and have given rise to organizations such as Black Lives Matter, whose members are working for accountability on the part of the police and for prevention of future police-related deaths or injuries involving African-Americans. Police, like all first responders, are under increasing scrutiny as they face the pressures of law enforcement in potentially dangerous situations.
Protestor Boss Bastain of St. Louis locks arms with others as they confront Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers in front of the Ferguson police station on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. Marchers are entering a third day of protests against Sunday’s police shooting of Michael Brown. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)
The underlying source of the problem is twofold: police are stressed due to the nature of their jobs, and inner-city African-Americans are stressed by the nature of their environment. A new, evidence-based strategy is needed that will prevent and help neutralize this buildup of stress, anger, and violence in individuals and in society as a whole.
Many solutions have been proposed, including better training and community policing; an increase in the availability of quality education, job training, and employment opportunities for inner-city blacks; and improved access to health care and various outreach programs for youth. All these are positive approaches, providing an external framework for improving the situation. But they all fail to address the underlying buildup of stress that inevitably erupts into violence.
One well-documented protocol for reducing stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the Transcendental Meditation technique. According to recent research, more than 50% of people with PTSD who learn TM are symptom-free in 30–105 days. In addition, regular TM practice has been shown to structure resilience, thereby helping to maintain lower levels of stress in daily life.
Transcendental Meditation was recently tested as a treatment protocol for Congolese war refugees afflicted with PTSD due to the horrors they had experienced, including rampant murder, rape and displacement. Among these refugees, 90% became asymptomatic within 30 to 60 days of learning Transcendental Meditation. Similarly, more than 50% of U.S. Veterans with PTSD who learned TM were free of PTSD symptoms in 30 days.
The Transcendental Meditation technique is a natural, easily learned practice that provides deep rest to body and mind and thereby begins to reverse the accumulation of stress within the practitioner. Studies show TM can alleviate high blood pressure and insomnia.
A police officer who is calmer, able to think more clearly, and less on edge will be better equipped to spontaneously implement techniques to defuse a potentially explosive situation, rather than escalate it. The manifold health benefits of TM practice could reduce work hours lost and increase overall effectiveness among law enforcement officers. If war refugees with PTSD can find rapid relief from stress through TM practice, how much easier will it be for both police and inner city African-Americans to find inner peace?
Howard Levine is a published author and a former public school teacher, who now does volunteer work with senior citizens. David Shapiro is Founding President of African PTSD Relief. Dr. David Leffler is the Executive Director at the Center for Advanced Military Science.