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Joe Biden said Monday that police under attack in the line of duty should shoot their assailants “in the leg instead of the heart” as a way to avert the killing of civilians.
“Instead of standing there and teaching a cop, when there’s an unarmed person coming at them with a knife or something, you shoot them in the leg instead of in the heart is a very different thing. There’s a lot of different things that could change,” Biden said in a meeting with community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del.
Biden’s remarks were made as cities across the nation continue to be engulfed in violent protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African-American, in police custody in Minneapolis. Four officers were fired for their role in Floyd’s death, which was captured on video. Former Officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The former vice president’s suggestion was intended to reduce the number of fatal shootings by police, and was not meant to refer to the mob violence occurring in many cities over recent nights. But his remarks raised a number of questions.
First, his example bore no real relation to the death of Floyd, who was arrested under suspicion of trying to pass a counterfeit bill. He did not attack police officers with a weapon, nor was he killed by a gunshot.
Second, in Biden’s hypothetical, the person “coming at” police officers was carrying “a knife or something,” meaning, by definition, that he or she was not “unarmed.”
Third, the femoral artery runs down the thigh, making a gunshot to the leg potentially fatal.
Fourth, while police policy differs on the justification for the use of firearms, officers are taught to shoot only as a last resort and to assume that any shot could be lethal. They are instructed to aim at the upper torso, which presents the biggest target.
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