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Witnessing police violence is traumatizing. Compensate those victims.

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Discussions of police shooting tragedies often exclude a stakeholder: the traumatized eyewitness to police violence. In the recent shooting of Daunte Wright, his girlfriend witnessed his shooting and death. In the killing of George Floyd, numerous bystanders served as traumatized witnesses. As law professors who have studied crime victim compensation programs around the nation, we contend traumatized eyewitnesses and victims of unlawful police violence need to be classified as crime victims.

During the Derek Chauvin trial, the country learned that Floyd was not the officer’s only victim. The bystanders who testified of their feelings of guilt and helplessness were also harmed. Although some victims of police brutality may be successful in bringing or settling lawsuits, traumatized eyewitnesses are often seen as collateral damage. Most crime victims can apply for little-known state benefits called victim compensation funds (VCF). However, these funds frequently fail to assist indirect victims of police violence. This needs to change.

Imagine a child who is shot and killed. Under most circumstances, victim compensation funds may help the family with critical funeral, medical and mental health costs. In the same scenario, if the killer was a police officer, like in the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, or 14-year-old Antonio Aces in Phoenix who were both killed by police while possessing toy guns, VCF funds would probably not be available, largely........


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