“Shoot Them in the Leg”

The New York Post ran this headline yesterday, “Biden calls for retraining cops: ‘Why should you always shoot with deadly force?’” “We have to retrain cops,” Biden said. “Why should you always shoot with deadly force? The fact is if you need to use your weapon, you don’t have to do that.” 

In the context of sharing his ignorance, Biden bragged about his May 2022 executive order on police reform penned in the wake of Congress’s failed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The executive order “bans chokeholds and greatly restricts no-knock warrants,” as well as “creates a national database for officer misconduct and tightens the use-of-force policies to emphasize deescalation.”

Not bad suggestions. Of course, the devil is in the details. You will remember during the 2020 presidential campaign Biden telling an audience at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, “Instead of standing there and teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person coming at them with a knife or something, shoot them in the leg instead of in the heart.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden bows his head in prayer during a visit to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, June 1, 2020.

If a police officer draws his weapon and shoot somebody, then he means to stop an imminent threat to life or limb. Shooting a man in the leg may not end the threat. So if a man does not want a cop to use deadly force against him, then he shouldn’t put the cop in a position where he has to. Cops don’t want to kill people. But it’s a tough gig and sometimes they have to.

Tragically, there are people who create situations where cops must use deadly force for their personal safety or the safety of others. The suspect may be taking his chances knowing that if apprehended he may wind up in prison. Some men will not be taken alive. Others are suicide by cop. Either they’re too cowardly to do the deed or they’re seeking martyrdom. In all these cases, the police officer, like anybody else, has the right to self defense, and if the threat is serious enough, self defense may require deadly force. Cops risk their lives all the time to save the lives of innocents. Cops shouldn’t have to risk their lives on account of those who mean them serious harm.

The story reports: “Police reportedly killed 1,185 people in 2022, according to a data analysis by Mapping Police Violence. Less than 10% of the cases where an individual was killed by police involved an unarmed subject, according to the group.” Statistics I see find a smaller percentage than that (less than 5 percent). But it’s sort of beside the point. An unarmed man can be a serious threat to life and limb. Failing to neutralize a threat can lead to the assailant lifting from the officer his Taser or his gun. These things have happened. When a person is attacking you, you cannot always determine whether he is armed. Most of the time, the determination is made after the fact. A rational person presumes the person attacking him means to hurt him and may be—and almost always is—armed with a knife or a gun.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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