by Drs. Otega Edukuye, Christopher Hoffman, Kevin Simon, and Christopher Smith on behalf of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Inc.
If you have lived in the South, you know Waffle House for its 24-hour table service and meals like the All-Star breakfast served with a waffle, bacon, eggs, toast, and hash browns – scattered, smothered and chunked for under ten bucks. If you lived in this country last year, you also know Waffle House as the place where 22-year-old Anthony Walls and 25-year-old Chikesia Clemons were manhandled by police. Then, tensions were so high that Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a boycott of Waffle House.  While the media coverage has dwindled, we will revisit these situations so that passion for change and resolve does not die when the incidents are no longer headlines.
We empathize with Ms. Clemons and Mr. Anthony and recognize that her experience at Waffle House is representative of a larger dilemma. As Black male physicians, these incidents are a grim reminder that our medical degrees will have little influence on our path to address health disparities as long as the criminal justice system ensnares and oppresses those of the darker skin tone. As more videos of police exerting excessive force on people of color continue to surface, it is evident that a paradigm shift in law enforcement is necessary.
Many argue that the constant influx of police brutality videos overestimate its occurrences, but the evidence and available literature suggest otherwise. It is estimated that law enforcement officers use measures of force against Black people a staggering 3.6 times higher than when dealing with White people.  These differences persist even when controlling for variables such as alleged offense committed and type of force utilized. The study “Deaths of People with Mental Illness during Interactions with Law Enforcement” found that “African American race and presence of mental illness were strongly associated with fatalities.”
Our concern is that while there is compelling data to support that over-use of force against citizens of color is indeed a real issue, there is resistance among law enforcement agencies to adopt tactics that will universally decrease excessive use of force, namely, de-escalation training.
In these videos, we noticed that police rarely attempt to reduce the suspect’s tensions. As fourth-year psychiatry residents, we have been skillfully trained in human behavior and treatment of patients with mental health concerns. We realize that approaching agitated people with demands and hostility rarely, if ever, improve a situation. Each of us has successfully de-escalated many of our agitated patients by simply talking with them; no physical contact or medications. Although conditions for a police officer in a community differ from those we face as doctors on the psychiatry wards, there is ample evidence that increased training in de-escalation could have merit for professionals working to save lives and keep the peace across disciplines.
According to reporter Albert Samaha, “excessive force complaints against the Dallas Police Department dropped by 64% between 2009 and 2014. The number of arrests and officer-involved shootings also declined in recent years.”  The changes Dallas Police Chief David Brown implemented emphasized de-escalation. Brown stated, “Rather than running into a situation, take your time approaching a suspect, talk over a strategy with your partner. Have just one officer talking with a suspect — rather than multiple people shouting — try to build a rapport with the suspect.” To us, calm discussion with an agitated individual seems the obvious first step. We perceive this unfathomable opportunity a loss in the fact that nearly 70% of states do not require de-escalation training for police. 
With all the videos, data, and protests by those marginalized by the majority, police still maintain permission to overstep justice in their attempt to restore order and make an arrest. The United States was founded nearly 250 years ago, and yet, people of color continue to find themselves treated as second-class citizens. As Black men and physicians backed by Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, we are advocating for concerted collaborative change within the policing community. While Waffle House employees should receive better training, the positive impact on disenfranchised communities and people of color will be greatest if police training across the U.S. included de-escalation training. As psychiatrists in training, we know that as protracted trauma and mistrust persist, the psychological effects worsen and become intractable. Until we see genuine changes in the way law enforcement engages our communities, tensions between police and Black people will not improve.
- Baer, Drake. “The Dallas Police Force Is Evidence That ‘De-Escalation’ Policing Works.” The Cut, 8 July 2016, www.thecut.com/2016/07/deescalation-policing-works.html.
- Cognac , Chris. “Ready, Set, Engage! Ideas and Options for Community Engagement and Partnership Building.” COPS, June 2015, cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/06-2015/community_engagement_and_partnership_building.asp.Samaha, Albert. “Dallas Officer-Involved Shootings Have Rapidly Declined In Recent Years.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 8 July 2016, www.buzzfeed.com/albertsamaha/dallas-police-numbers?utm_term=.ead1DP0L8.
- Samaha, Albert. “Dallas Officer-Involved Shootings Have Rapidly Declined In Recent Years.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 8 July 2016, www.buzzfeed.com/albertsamaha/dallas-police-numbers?utm_term=.ead1DP0L8.
- Gilbert, Curtis. “Most States Neglect Ordering Police to Learn De-Escalation Tactics to Avoid Shootings.” What It Takes | APM Reports, 5 May 2017, www.apmreports.org/story/2017/05/05/police-de-escalation-training.
- King, Bernice. “Family, Let’s Stay out of @WaffleHouse until the Corporate Office Legitimately and Seriously Commits to 1) Discussion on Racism, 2) Employee Training, and 3) Other Plans to Change; and until They Start to Implement Changes. Https://T.co/NJWFOBKN7i.” Twitter, Twitter, 10 May 2018, twitter.com/BerniceKing/status/994564295374655488.