Joe Biden Said A Dumb Thing But Not The Dumb Thing People Said He Said
Joe Biden went to a meeting yesterday at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, where black leaders expressed their frustration and anger at institutional racism, especially in policing. The New York Times described the meeting as "part listening session, part campaign speech and part forum for members of Wilmington's black community to express their collective anguish." Biden spoke, but first he listened, as speaker after speaker made clear they supported him, but expect him to make their concerns a more central part of his campaign (and, let's hope, presidency). Delaware state Sen. Darius Brown put it directly: "We're here not only to love you but to push you."
When Biden spoke, he began by quoting Kierkegaard: "'Faith sees best in the dark' [...] and it's been pretty dark." He said he was working on policy proposals to address policing, such as instituting a national police oversight board in his first 100 days as president. He also condemned Donald Trump for energizing racism:
Earlier in his career, "I thought we could actually defeat hate," Mr. Biden said. "What I realized — not just white supremacy, but hate — hate just hides. Hate just hides. It doesn't go away. And when you have somebody in power who breathes oxygen to the hate under the rocks, it comes out from under the rocks."
Biden also said the pain of American racism is "too immense for one community to bear alone," and condemned complacency among people who "don't think of themselves as racist," but now have "kind of had the mask pulled off."
I believe it's the duty of every American to grapple with it, and to grapple with it now. With our complacency, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence.
So there's some context for a brief video snippet that blew up in some parts of lefty Twitter yesterday. While talking about police reform, Biden suggested that police be trained to try to wound people rushing at them instead of using deadly force. Unfortunately, Biden described such a scenario in plainly impossible language, referring to police responding to "an unarmed person coming at 'em with a knife or something." It was a really bad moment for fuzzy syntax, since someone with a knife is definitely not "unarmed." Perhaps Biden meant someone not holding a gun, or perhaps "unarmed" was just a brainfart.
Biden's suggested alternative to deadly force was also not great; he said maybe cops could be trained to "shoot 'em in the leg instead of the heart." That's problematic all on its own, since shooting to wound generally only works in the movies. Here's the clip; if you can't see the video, click the little blue birdie to open the tweet in another tab.
Just to make matters worse, because they can always be made worse, Mediaite notes that in an early tweet about the speech, CBS reporter Bo Erickson didn't describe Biden's comments clearly — not that an unarmed person with a knife is all that clear to start with, but Erickson left the knife out altogether, suggesting that Biden had called for shooting unarmed people:
That would explain at least some of the people who then took to Twitter to insist that Joe Biden wants to shoot unarmed people. But others retweeted the version with the video and the full quote and still proclaimed Biden was calling for police to shoot unarmed people, and that's just dumb, because no he didn't say that. He said something confusing, but it's kind of hard to ignore the "comin' at 'em with a knife or something" part unless you're deliberately leaving it out.
As for the suggestion of shooting people in the leg, that too is one of those things that comes up in discussions of police shootings, and in general it's more a fantasy than a tactic. Police aren't sharpshooters, and arms and legs are far harder to hit than the torso— especially if someone's running. Smaller targets mean more stray bullets, and a 2008 RAND study found police already have an iffy enough record of hitting their targets. (And god help us, this jerk at Breitbart is correct: A gunshot to the leg can hit the femoral artery, causing the person to bleed out in minutes.) At least Biden didn't call for cops to be trained to shoot the weapon out of an attacker's hands.
The point isn't that cops need to learn to point their guns at different parts of the body, it's that they need to learn how to de-escalate situations so they're less likely to need to use their guns in the first place. Deadly force should be a last resort. The problem in too many cases is that police are simply too quick to go for their guns, and boy, we wish Biden had emphasized that, and the need to demilitarize policing in general, instead of spinning out an action-movie scenario, and a confusingly framed one at that.
Maybe our political candidates should be trained to use their words more precisely when aiming at the problem of police violence.
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