After years of covering crime as a television journalist, ABC Wisconsin reporter Sarah Thamer found herself struggling to get out of bed and go to work.
The tipping point came after someone tried to run her over on live TV in 2020. She was covering the protests that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.
Officer Rusten Shesky shot Blake in the back seven times – in front of Blake’s three children.
The shooting took place just a few months after Derek Chauvin, then an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, killed George Floyd five hours away.
“Hundreds of people were gathered at the scene,” Thamer said.
“Police had blocked off almost every street. People were screaming, swearing and some were crying.”
“For three consecutive weeks, I came close to bullets and teargas as buildings in Kenosha (Wis.) were being burned and businesses were destroyed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic along with two major police brutality cases and civil unrest made her realize she had been covering death and destruction nonstop for months.
“My anxiety started to become debilitating,” she said.
“It was a panic attack one morning that led me to go on medical leave. Not long after, I was diagnosed with (post-traumatic stress disorder) PTSD and severe anxiety.”
The TV reporter quit her job.
“At that point in my life, it was the hardest decision I had ever made,” Thamer said.
“To leave something I was so passionate about was scary, but it was also the bravest thing I could do during a time I was expected to “‘keep going” and it was a powerful coexistence of grief and relief.”
A year of “self-preservation” led her back to journalism. She last year joined the Race, Class and Communities team as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio.
Thamer feels more passionate than ever before with the ability to dive deeper on stories and work on more solution-based journalism, she said.
She continues to cover police brutality and the need for systemic changes.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order restricting the force police can use.
A bill to ban the use of “no-knock warrants,” which allows police to enter premises without knocking, passed the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Safety Committee.
Still, in the past three years, Thamer said she doesn’t believe there has been “concrete changes,” as police brutality is still occurring across the United States.
“In interviewing various police chiefs at different departments, there are efforts taking place to address institutional problems, like systemic racism, representation within departments, but those efforts vary from department to department across the country,” Thamer said.