Letter to NASW News


To: Laetitia Clayton, Managing Editor



Dear Laetitia Clayton:

Given the understanding of PTSD among social workers, we now have both the knowledge and the obligation to weigh in on community debates of whether to issue permits for marches by the Nazis, the Klan, and like organizations.  So long as the U.S. does not follow the German example of outlawing the Nazi Party, conditions for marches apparently will turn often on questions of safety.  This is a point of view espoused on free speech grounds by such as Prof. David Cole, National Legal Director of the ACLU (New York Review of Books, 8/28/17).

However, there is so far a health safety issue overlooked by this point of view--that of mental health safety, beyond physical safety.  Marches through or near communities previously traumatized by other people-- exactly the communities the Nazis and Klan wish to threaten--produces retraumatization.  I write from a background of 25 years as a therapistand administrator working with refugee survivors of torture, and am privy to the reactionsproducingtrauma symptoms in these communities and our own communities of color.  Increased trauma symptoms have resulted in such reactions as increased aggression (eg, domestic violence), increased substance abuse, withdrawal from partners and children, self-destructiveness, sleep disorders, and so on.

The increase in these trauma symptoms appears asa direct result of involuntary exposure to organizations with a stated purpose, and/or history of behavior dedicated to killing or otherwise eliminating these communities.  It is hard enough on refugee communities to learn of the presence in the U.S. of their torturers (another provocation I have been dedicated to eliminating through the Center for Justice & Accountability).  

Since many universities include large numbers of students from communities with immediate trauma backgrounds, even there the conservative position is, for health safety, to issue permission to Nazis and others to erect tents on land outside cities, with transportation access, to which hated groups can go voluntarily on behalf of free speech if they will.


Gerald Gray, MSW, MPH

Institute for Redress & Recovery

Santa Clara University

Santa Clara, California