“Shoot Them in the Leg...”

That’s what he said but not necessarily what he meant. He was advocating the use of non-deadly force.

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Photo by Felix Koutchinski

Joe should have said, “just don’t kill him.”

Joe Biden will probably catch a lot of flack for saying police, rather than killing someone, should shoot them in the leg. He said that in Wednesday night’s town hall. But he meant use non-lethal force. He’s not a police professional and it’s perfectly understandable he wouldn’t know what police are supposed to do instead of killing someone. I immediately knew what he meant — use non-lethal force.

Police always shoot to kill.
Already, I saw a police officer on social media saying no cop would suggest such a thing. Biden probably doesn’t know that it is against all police policies to shoot to wound. He was only trying to say the police should quit killing people when there’s any doubt whether it’s necessary and when there are other options.

Police don’t shoot to wound. They only shoot to kill. That is how they are trained.

The reason is simple:
They shouldn’t be shooting at all unless someone is actively trying to kill them. They do not wound because they cannot shoot at people who are not trying to kill them. There is no leeway for shooting just to wound because if the cop shoots, he must believe it’s necessary to save his life.

They’re taught: If someone is trying to kill you, you kill him first. So, there would never be an excuse for purposely shooting to wound.

If it’s a situation where non-lethal force is enough, that’s what should be used. Guns are not non-lethal weapons.

If it’s a situation where the cop is about to get his tail kicked…oh, well. It sucks to be them. They should be trained to be respectful about what they say and how they treat people and they don’t have to worry so much about that.

Treat people with respect and only a small percentage become combative. Cops should understand when they pin on the badge that there will come times when they will get roughed up a bit by someone upset, angry, or mentally ill; the person should not be killed for resisting arrest — unless the cop has let the situation get so out of control they must kill or be killed.

There are, of course, unexpected assaults and all kinds of things to endanger a cop’s life — but cops can’t go around killing everyone who resists them. That’s the Nazi way. This is still the USA.

Hospital personnel don’t shoot people who become combative.

Look at hospitals. People become combative there, too. The hospital workers don’t shoot them. They calm them down if they can, manhandle them if they have to. That’s what police generally do, too. Unless the cop is a coward. Then he might shoot unnecessarily.

I look at the George Floyd murder and I think I know why they wouldn’t let him get up and why the senior officer just wanted to keep him on the ground until more cops arrived. Because he was scared if Mr. Floyd got up, he might mop up the street with him. That’s what I think. George Floyd was a big guy. So the cowardly cop suffocated him to death.

When do we talk about cops’ fear of black men?

And by the way, why don’t we talk about why white cops are afraid of black men? Because they are. I’ve been there. 15 years as a cop. I know. I’ve seen it.

It will take a sociologist to answer that question, and many people smarter than me to figure out what we can do about it. But it’s time we address it and find ways to neutralize it. Fear. It goes two ways. Black men are understandably afraid of the cops who shoot and kill them. The cops are afraid of black men. I understand the first. For the second we have to dig deeper.

Some cops are cowards at heart, and police need to weed them out of their ranks. As a former cop, I can tell you there are times when you’d rather be anywhere else or in any other situation. But the real cowards need to be discovered and removed from police work before they kill someone — because they are apt to.

The only way in the world a 5-foot, 140-pound cop is going to accomplish the arrest of anyone bigger and stronger is either with a lot of help or, most often, by using training and respect. The right attitude goes a long way toward calming situations and not further escalating them. Cops do it every day.

Female cops cannot rely on brute strength. Nor can small stature male cops. Police are taught steps to diffuse a situation. But steps are being skipped by the cowards in our country’s law enforcement departments. They encounter someone, get scared, and shoot to kill. But they are doing this when no one is trying to kill them. The truth is that some degree of courage and bravery is required to be a cop. All the cops know this.

They also know most of the cops who end up shooting an unarmed person who is not posing a threat to them is a coward. But they will never admit it. Because of the code, the fraternity, etc., which is also a problem to be addressed in a different essay.

Cowards, that’s the problem. I love Joe Biden, but he’s wrong about shooting them in the leg. If they are trying to kill you, a cop shoots to kill the person. If they are not trying to kill him, a cop shouldn’t even have his gun out in the first place. If they aren’t sure, get the gun out, but don’t shoot someone who isn’t a threat. No cop should ever shoot a person running away unless that person is stabbing or shooting people. Yet, we’ve seen that situation happen when the person running away was not even armed.

Some natural fear is to be expected with all they have to go through and do. But pure cowardice cannot be accepted. Cowards must go, and other police need to make sure they do. They are as dangerous to other cops are they are to the public. If they are afraid to approach a person without expecting to shoot the person, they do not belong on the street. The police know who they are. But again, the code.

Here’s why police don’t shoot to wound.

Because if it is serious enough to shoot, someone had better be actively trying to kill the cop or an innocent third party.

It’s on every police test.

When can a police officer use deadly (lethal) force?
The right answer is ‘to save my life or the life of an innocent third party,’ which is the only correct answer. And if he’s not trying to kill the officer, they shouldn’t be shooting at all. So, shooting an attacker in the leg isn’t an allowable action.

There are non-lethal weapons like tasers if he just wants to wrestle. There are all kinds of police defensive tactics and if they can’t perform them to neutralize an attack, why do they bother to teach them? They are equipped and trained to handle anyone who wants to fight without killing him.

Unlike in the old days, they have a radio right there on their shoulder, and they can get back-up and flood the place with cops in a hurry — especially in a big city. If a cop can’t handle the idea of being injured or even a pretty tough beating…he or she needs to get a different job. I am not kidding. People who are so afraid that they will shoot first and find out what’s going on later need to go home.

People who cannot stand the thought of some personal injury have no business being law enforcement officers. Oh, and while I’m on it, they need more than a few weeks of training, too.

“I was so scared I almost peed myself” is NOT a viable reason for shooting a person, but that’s why a lot of police killings are happening. I know, I’ve been out there and it is scary as hell sometimes. But police cannot be controlled by fear.

As a short woman cop, almost every contact was bigger than me — so that is scary — but normal for many officers. You can’t just shoot everyone who scares you or is bigger than you, etc. Nowhere in all their training were they told it’s ok to kill someone because you’re scared. They need a hell of a lot better reason than that. Because unless a cop is an idiot, they will be scared a lot — and perform their duty correctly anyway.

I don’t blame any cop for being scared, but fear must be managed to do a proper and ethical job. The profession must weed out the cowards.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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