Why Most ‘Use Of Force’ Police Critics Have Been Watching Too Much TV

Written by Greg Hopkins on October 4, 2017

About two weeks ago, a mentally ill Georgia tech student and a campus policeman became victims of the student’s insane desire to die. The cop was forced to fire when the young man’s actions threatened him and his fellow officers. Such suicide by cop, or “Blue Suicide”, as it’s often called, is sadly all too common. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom. 8:7. This form of suicide occurs when people get high on drugs or are insane; wishing to die but lacking the courage to do it themselves. According to the Washington Post, mental illness may be a factor in as much as one-fourth of all shootings by cops.

This student was a senior, head of the campus LGBT Pride Alliance. Described as likeable and compassionate by friends, he nevertheless was interested in ANTIFA. Two years ago, he attempted to hang himself. He refused to describe himself as either male or female. Leaving three suicide notes in his dorm room, he called campus police to report “A white male with long, blond, hair, wearing a white tee shirt, blue jeans, and carrying a knife.” He further reported the man “may have a gun.” (He had a knife at the scene, but no gun.) He had just described himself in order to set up his own death. Four campus cops responded. Unfortunately, Georgia Tech Police are not equipped with non-lethal Tasers. Had they had them, these devices would have been perfect for this situation. They probably had pepper spray, but that option can fail against psychotic individuals, plus their range is about a third of the Taser.

A video clearly shows that the student ignored orders to drop the knife and stop advancing on the cops. They yelled, “Nobody wants to hurt you, Man!” He advances on one cop who retreats behind a parking barrier. The student keeps walking toward him until another cop yells, “What are we doing here?” then he turns toward that cop, ignoring the commands, “Do not move!”, and “Drop it!”, taking three more steps toward the cop while yelling, “Shoot me!”, before a single gunshot puts him down. He died at the scene. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Prov. 14:12.

WAPO says that since 2015, about 392 people armed with knives or other blade-type weapons have been fatally shot by police. This is about 14% of all deadly police shootings nationally. As city prosecutor, I taught use-of-force law to 300 patrol officers; here are some of the realities cops know about knives. Knives are one of the oldest universal deadly weapons, more efficient than clubs or rocks. They do horrible damage to human beings. (If you have a strong stomach, google pictures of knife wounds.) A knife is a silent close assault/defense weapon, deadly at arms’ length and it never runs out of ammo. Its use can be a lethal martial art, yet it can be deadly in the hands of a determined amateur. Even a child can cause permanent, maiming injury or death with one.

Knives are the current weapon of choice in Islamic “Lone Wolf” attacks both here and abroad. The knife’s big brother, the machete, is the choice of MS 13 gangs. Knives are easily concealable in any dress code outside of a nudist colony, and available for purchase in any country. They are lightning fast to deploy from concealment. In fact, a trained knife-fighter at arm’s length from you can pull a one-handed folder from a pocket and cut you in FIVE major arteries in 1.8 seconds! For swift, quiet, close assassination, no weapon equals the knife.

Cops know that most bullet-resistant vests will not stop a blade from penetrating to the wearer. So cops are taught never to allow a knife wielder within striking distance. That critical distance has been established by experience and experiment over many years as seven yards. From that distance, a heathy adult can cross the interval and stick a knife into you in an average of 1.3 to two seconds! In my own classes I’ve seen 83-year olds run it in 2.5 seconds. Most people CANNOT draw from concealment or a police security holster and fire one shot within two seconds. These facts are why cops won’t let knife-bearers closer than 21 feet.

Consequently, when the suicidal senior took his last three steps toward the cop, knife in hand, he had already closed the distance to within eleven feet. Within that “Deadly Distance”, the cop had to stop him, knowing that even if he blew his heart out, he could STILL have enough vascular pressure in him to do anything he wanted for the next 10-15 seconds! It’s a pity that the campus cops weren’t equipped with Tasers. Rather than a berserker, Viking-type charge, this insane young man moved at a walk toward police. They could easily have used a non-lethal Taser to stop him. Taser is a proven technology and there is no excuse for any officer to be without it. Without it, the cops had no choice but to shoot.

Some might ask, “Why didn’t they shoot him in the arm or leg, or shoot the knife out of his hand? They do it on TV all the time!” Because movies and TV are MAKE-BELIEVE! Deadly force doesn’t work that way in real life! You can’t give someone an “ouchie” with a deadly weapon. Some people die when shot from shock, fright, or bleeding out, even when struck in non-vital areas. The law deems that use of a deadly weapon carries intent to kill or seriously injure. The only lawful way to use such force is when the bad guy is trying to do the same to you. An arm or leg shot can easily hit major arteries, causing death. Moreover, bullets do crazy things when they hit flesh and bone, often changing direction and going on to hit vital areas. In arms and legs, bullets often over-penetrate, going through the limb and entering the trunk of the body, or passing through to hit an innocent bystander. The high probability of hitting the wrong people is a civil liability problem for police and armed citizens. Hence, they are all taught to shoot for the torso only, as it’s the biggest target and the one that bullets will most likely stay inside.

You can’t legally shoot someone unless your life is actually threatened. This threat automatically triggers the “Fight or Flight” reflex, causing adrenaline to dump into the bloodstream. Super strength and pain tolerance that allows us to defend our lives or run is the result. However, it also makes the hands tremble badly, causing loss of the fine-motor control we need to shoot accurately. That is why all cops, military, and citizen shooters are taught to shoot for the torso, because it’s the only body part we can reliably hit under stress. It is also the place that if hit will most likely cause the bad guy to stop (Not kill). We are trained to shoot to stop, and a torso hit by a handgun only results in death once out of every four shootings. Finally, shooting someone in the leg or arm can be used against you in court. The opposing lawyer will ask you WHY you shot his client in a “non-lethal” part instead of a vital zone if you actually thought he was trying to kill you! “Therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is CLEARLY excessive force!” he’ll say.

This student’s death is a tragedy. His determination to die and Georgia Tech’s failure to properly equip campus cops combined to result in his suicide by cop. All cops should have the latest non-lethal tech at their disposal, and maybe training on how to deal with mentally-diseased or defective people, as well. If you have friends with mental illness, depression, or drug problems, listen to them carefully for suicidal statements. Help them get help and be a caring ear. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:25-37.

photo credit: Excerpted from: Chris Yarzab Mission Hills Police Department via photopin (license)

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Greg Hopkins
Greg Hopkins is a recovering lawyer, city prosecutor, police Use-of-Force law instructor, former city judge in two towns and criminal defense lawyer. He’s been teaching the Bible to teens and adults for 40 years. He now trains CCP holders and armed church security teams in self defense law. He also does expert witnessing in firearms and self defense cases. His book is A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism, on the Bible and Self Defense.