- An article in The New York Times this week reported that US President Donald Trump suggested to members of his administration that soldiers shoot migrants in the legs while crossing the border.
- That action is against the laws of war, and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents who also guard the southern border would be prevented from shooting at migrants.
- An expert in the use of force by police told Insider that the idea of CBP agents shooting at migrants is “bats–t crazy, yes. It’s clearly unconstitutional.”
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A recent New York Times report found that President Donald Trump asked aides if soldiers could shoot migrants crossing the US’s southern border in the legs to slow them down, among other brutal ways of keeping them out of the country.
It is a war crime for troops to shoot at civilians who are not endangering them, particularly those from countries that the US is not at war with. Customs and Border Patrol agents also must follow rules about the use of force, about which Trump seems wholly ignorant.
An expert in police use of force tells Insider that the idea to shoot people crossing the border in the legs is both “bats— crazy” and “unconstitutional.”
As the Times pointed out, Trump had publicly said that soldiers should shoot migrants if they threw rocks; but privately, he suggested that they be slowed by bullets to the legs – a suggestion his staff told him was illegal.
Peter Moskos, a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as a former Baltimore city police officer, told Insider that the suggestion was “bats— crazy, yes. It’s clearly unconstitutional.”
Trump called the reporting that he suggested shooting migrants “Fake News” on Twitter.
The New York Times’ reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear wrote that their reporting was based on interviews with more than a dozen Trump administration and White House officials who had direct knowledge of and involvement with the meeting where Trump broached this.
CBP is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), unlike police forces, which operate under city or state departments. But the rules governing use of force are similar, and drawn from one of the same Supreme Court cases, Moskos said.
According to the CBP handbook from 2014, use of deadly force – force likely to cause “serious physical injury or death” – can be used only “when necessary, that is, when [a CBP] officer/agent has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to the officer/agent or to another person.”
“I feel almost silly talking about this because nothing he says should be taken seriously,” Moskos, an expert in the use of force by police, told Insider. Police, he said, are only authorised to shoot when their lives are at risk – and “migrants are not a threat.”
What’s more, trying to shoot someone in the leg while they’re on the move just isn’t practical, Moskos said; shooting a target, especially while that target is running, is incredibly difficult. “Cops miss,” Moskos said, which is why they’re tr rained to shoot at a centre of mass – the torso – and not at quickly-moving legs in a stressful situation.
“Poor border cops, can you imagine if you were given the order to shoot someone?”
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