By Terrell Jermaine Starr
Johnetta Elzie rose to national prominence as a leading protester in Ferguson last summer. Her activism protesting the police shooting death of Michael Brown has been highlighted in national publications like the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, but the police aggression and the intensity of protesting nonstop took a serious toll on her mental health. During the height of the protests, she was tear-gassed at least nine times, faced off against menacing police dogs, regularly confronted by aggressive law enforcement officers, and spent many nights running away from cops. A rubber bullet struck her left collarbone during one protest.
“It was just crazy for me to see the police responding to us like we were almost at war. Only we weren’t armed,” Elzie, a native of St. Louis, told AlterNet. “There was the constant threat of almost dying. In August, I thought I almost died at least twice when we were on the run from police.”
She had never seen a mental health professional prior to Ferguson, but had four sessions with one during the protests. Elzie’s therapist told her she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I thought only people who have experienced war could have that, but just from what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen, she said that I definitely have it,” Elzie, 25, said.