Interview: Psychologist explains mental health impact of racist Buffalo shooting

10 killed, 3 injured in mass New York shooting that targeted Black community, investigators say

Following the tragic mass shooting in Buffalo, New York that targeted Black people in a predominantly Black community, people throughout the U.S. -- especially minorities -- have difficult thoughts and feelings to grapple with. We're joined by Dr. Riana Anderson from the University of Michigan to discuss the impact the shooting has on mental health.

DETROIT – The racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 people dead and three people injured over the weekend has communities across the U.S. on high alert.

On Saturday, May 14, a white 18-year-old man opened fire at a grocery story in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. Of the victims, 11 Black people were shot and 2 white people were shot, officials said.

According to investigators, the suspected gunman -- wearing body armor and a helmet with a camera to livestream the shooting -- targeted the victims because they were Black. He reportedly drove 200 miles from his hometown of Conklin, New York, to Buffalo after searching out and specifically targeting a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Read more: Buffalo shooting latest example of targeted racial violence

The May 14 shooting has stirred up similar feelings that many Black Americans faced during similar attacks, like when avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine parishioners during a Bible study in Charleston in 2015. The Buffalo shooting occurred just days ahead of the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

Psychologist and University of Michigan professor Dr. Riana Anderson says this latest racist shooting has the ability to disrupt the day-to-day life of Black and Brown Americans of all ages, and significantly impacts mental health and wellbeing.

“As a clinical psychologist, we know from studies ... that this is causing higher depression and anxiety symptoms in our Black and Brown children who are witnessing these things,” Anderson said. “For adults, we know it’s lowering productivity at work. That means our minds are thinking about this in ways that are preoccupying, or causing rumination.

“So it’s quite challenging for the health and wellbeing, the daily functioning and activities, of Black and Brown people in the United States.”

As abhorrent as the shooting itself was, the fact that the suspected shooter was arrested alive highlights a stark contrast between police encounters with white people, vs police encounters with many Black people.

For example, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer in 2014 and was identified as a man, Anderson said. On the contrary, the 18-year-old accused of shooting 13 people in Buffalo over the weekend was “called a teenager, a boy,” she said. “It’s really important to think about the humanization of everyone, and the intentional dehumanization of those who we’ve seen in prior years.”

Anderson says that regardless of what you are feeling after the shooting, the fact that you are feeling something at all is important.

“When we don’t feel something, when we’re numb to this, that means that we’ve taken in so much of it that we’re not even having a spike in our emotions,” Anderson said. “It’s what you do with it that matters.”

The psychologist encourages people to take a break from the TVs and the phones when possible, and “enjoy the life and the light in our communities. Then, Anderson suggests using one’s emotion to drive meaningful actions that can promote the change you wish to see.

“Really to think about the conversations we can have -- and I know some people might think conversation is not enough for a moment like this -- but it’s the exact conversation that this young man was watching and engaging in online that got him to think about Black people the way that he did,” Anderson said. “So, we need to have conversations with our children at the dinner table, in our schools, in our mentoring groups, to let them know that all lives have human value, and that we should not dehumanize the lives of Black and Brown and Asian folk.

“What’s really important is that we have effective gun control; that we have people who aren’t afraid to talk about these racial concepts in schools and in our communities,” Anderson added. “So, we have to get out the vote to people who are going to be brave to vote for effective gun control and continuing racial dialogue in schools and public places.”

Watch Dr. Anderson’s full interview in the video player above.

More reading: Biden urges unity to stem racial hate after Buffalo shooting

About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.