Monday, August 21, 2017

ER Doc's Book Provides A Unique Prescription To Reduce Violent Encounters For Blacks & The Police

Over 1,100 died this past year when interacting with law enforcement and over 100,000 suffered injuries that required a visit to the ER.

ER doctor Geoffrey Mount Varner MD, MPH, has seen the aftermath of what goes wrong when the police have altercations with civilians.  In fact, after seeing the injuries pile up over the past two decades, he couldn’t remain silent any longer.

“My 11-year-old son is old enough to be killed by the police. As a father of an African American boy, I’m especially concerned with what could happen when black youth are stopped or pulled over by the police,” says Dr. Varner, who authored a book to address what one should do when pulled over or stopped by the police. He hopes parents read the book and encourage their children to follow these invaluable steps. 

Home Alive:  11 Must Steps to Surviving Encounters with the Police empowers parents with survival skills to teach their children to make it home alive.  It provides the necessary advice of what one should say or do in a vulnerable situation.

Dr. Varner has seen many people come into the ER that have experienced violence. His two decades of experience includes serving as the medical director and assistant fire chief for EMS in Washington DC and the chairman of Emergency Medicine at Howard University Hospital. He also served on the DC mayor’s EMS Task Force.

“I recognize that many people are going to disagree with at least a few of these rules and that’s okay,” says Dr. Varner.  “But by having a discussion of what to do in such situations will help our young black men and other youths return home safely.”

“This book will save your child’s or loved one’s life. It is not about rather you agree or like the recommendations. It is about seeing your loved one alive. When it comes to my son, I can fix whatever happened to him and his ego during the police encounter. But I can’t fix death. Just get him home and both of us can address the encounter.”

He adds: “It is sad and unfortunate that this type of book is needed. It pains me that we even need a book like this but more and more Americans -- especially black males -- are being injured and killed each year and we need to offer help in any way we can.”

Below is a Q & A with Dr. Varner:

1.      Dr. Varner, what inspired you to write Home Alive? As a practicing ER physician of two decades who used to run a level-one trauma center in an urban environment for several years, I bring a unique perspective to the debate of how we can save lives when civilians interaction with the police. I have seen too many casualties that have come as the result of civilian-police confrontations. I have an 11-year-old son who is old enough to be killed by the police. When a recorded video killing of a young black person at the hands of the police surfaces, I make my kids sit and watch the video with me and we use the media story as the basis for our ongoing police relations conversation. After one of the videos my son asked me: “What are you doing about this, Daddy?” This is my answer to that question.

2.      What makes your book different? You are not a lawyer or in law enforcement, so what makes you qualified to speak on this? I am an emergency medicine physician, a Harvard graduate, a father and someone who sees the impact and pain from death every time I go to work. I uniquely know that regardless of the who, what, when, and where of death, there are people who are left to endure the unending pain of having lost a loved one. My unique perspective based on seeing sudden death and violence in the ER combined with the fact that I have two siblings who were both former prosecutors and are now sitting judges, I have a perspective that no one else can have in the world. There is not a law, or even two laws, that can be passed that will suddenly stop the American crisis of police killings and deaths. This crisis is going to take years to solve. In the meantime, 3.4 citizens are being killed per day, with a disproportionate number being young black males. And a disproportionate number of the young black males are unarmed. We have an American crisis. We are the cavalry. We must immediately start saving lives.  Based on over 2,000 hours of research and interviews, I developed a survival tool kit that will immediately begin to save lives.

3.      You have an 11-year-old son. Are you deathly afraid he can wind up another statistic even if he does nothing wrong? I have great concern and angst that my son, your son, your nephew, daughter, niece, or your loved one will wind up a statistical victim of violence.  This is about being concerned about someone you love more than yourself being taken away from you for reasons that don’t make sense. My son is a black male. The world is going to treat him differently. We can prepare him for that challenge. But I have to prepare for how to interact with the police, because initially and often they will only see a black male and all the stereotypes the officer chooses to harbor.    Additionally, most people think that police violence will never happen to them because after all, they are law-abiding citizens. The only time most citizens come in contact with the police are for traffic stops or when they’re in need:
                                                              i.      30-40% of those killed by the police started off as a simple traffic stop or as a domestic call.
                                                            ii.      20 – 30 % of those killed by the police were unarmed

4.      As an ER doctor of two decades in a busy urban area, what did you witness to inform your impressions of the interactions between the police and citizenry, specifically with young black males? Often, by the time the officers and the assailant arrive to the ER they have already managed through the more aggressive phase. Hence, my perspective is different and if the arrestee is injured, he is more focused on his life than the police interactions. Often, I experience an intersection of the black male and police officer, finding common ground especially for those arrested when the officer had other options.  The exchange between the officer and the arrestee is more about seeking clarity and explanations. When there were clear undeniable reasons for the arrest, the intersection of the officer and the black male is more confrontational. The officer is more aggressive and judgmental. The black male is often more defiant, often related to the aggressive manner of the arrest.

5.      So, you say that your book doesn’t look to prosecute cops nor make people feel like victims. Rather, you simply seek to save lives and not risk unnecessary injuries during police-citizen interactions. Why is such a book needed? The book is needed because the Unites States has more police killings of citizens than any other industrialized country in the world and black males are killed at a disproportionate rate than their peers I get it, the police want to make it home alive and often their motto is, “I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”  Police first want to feel safe and then respected. If the police feel threatened, they are trained to react with a force that is greater than the perceived threat.  There are 3.4 citizens killed by the police each day. There are even significantly more citizens who are injured by the police each day. It is sad and unfortunate that a book of this nature is needed. But until the problem of police killings are fixed we need a bridge to help slow the killings.  We all have to play a part. For example, if citizens can calm themselves  and slow things even before the stop and during the interaction then there is a greater likelihood that officers will feel less threatened and have more time to react in non-life-threatening situations. The way we calm ourselves is to prepare for the interaction now before the stop.

6.      What would you say in response to African-American activists who may feel you are silencing their narratives in police-citizen relations? Where do you think the tension stems from?  I would say that their narrative exists within my book. My book does not change any group’s activism. In fact, it is because of the book that their activism can exist and flourish.   Let’s be clear, from my perspective, a traffic or police stop is not the time for activism. It is the time to change your focus and go into survival mode. It is the time to figure out how to make it home alive and unharmed. You know what they call a dead activist? Dead!  You know what they call the parents of a dead activist? A person experiencing a pain worse than death. It is an inconsolable pain. A pain so deep that their heart literally hurts.

7.      What are some of the 11 tips and strategies shared in your book that, if followed, could greatly reduce the chances of an unnecessary altercation with the police?
“When pulled over, everyone in the car is pulled over”
a.       It is not just the driver who the police are concerned about. They are concerned about everyone and anyone in the car who can harm them.  Your friend in the back must be focused on the goal too.
b.      Know who is in the car with you. Set clear expectations about expected behavior when pulled over.
“Don’t run”
c.       When you run, your “flight or fight response” is heightened. Your adrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine) increases. You are amped. But there is also a stress hormone, cortisol that increases as well. Increased amounts of cortisol clouds judgment.
d.      Hence, you have the assailant and the police with increased cortisol and likely clouded judgement running to an area that is often outside the public domain.

8.      One of your suggestions is for civilians to cry or fake cry. Why? The goal of crying is to try to create a human pause. Crying is often associated with someone in pain or in need of help. Crying creates feelings in the person crying, as well as the people seeing the crying. Crying gives the officer a moment to see you as a person in need of help.  The goal of crying is slow things down. It gives the officer more time to give you the benefit of the doubt. The book is a very transformative book and requires critical thinking. It is important to keep in mind that the basic point of the book is to make it home alive at all costs. Survive the encounter with the police and fight later in court.

9.      You also make a good point that when you are pulled over by the police, everyone in the car is pulled over. One of the things you suggest is using a cell phone to record the conversation with the police. What should a driver tell his/her passengers to do or not do? View this book as a survival kit. If the stop is going well and no one feels threatened, you are on the safe side of the interaction. But if the stop is not going well and it is escalating, you have to decide what tools to deploy. Although the Supreme Court has been very clear about the right of a citizens to record, you do not want to do anything to antagonize the situation.  I would consider recording until the officer tells you to stop. And if he tells you to stop, put it down but DO NOT turn it off.

Dr. Varner is a client of the publicity firm that I work for. I do hope more people learn about his unique approach to solving a major problem.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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