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Joe Biden on Police Shooting Deaths: 'How Did We Get Here?'

by Tim Stelloh /
Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe BidenNBC News

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"How did we get here?"

That was how Vice President Joe Biden described his reaction to the killings last week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in an interview with NBC Nightly News' Lester Holt on Monday.

What came next, at least when thinking about Sterling’s death, Biden said, was a nuanced view on the events that led to his killing — and on the debate about race and policing that is raging across the country.

“I looked and saw ... an African American on the ground with two police officers over top of him,” he said. "What I didn’t know at the time is that a homeless person called in and said there's a guy threatening me with a gun.

“So the police show up,” Biden added. “Because [there’s] this heightened tension across the board you have this guy thinking, ‘Uh-oh, these guys are coming for me. I'm gonna’ be victimized.’ Which it turns out he may have been. And then the other side of the equation is: wait a minute this guy's got a gun, what's gonna’ happen here."

While acknowledging that institutional racism “exists throughout our society,” Biden said the way to begin to close this perception gap is fairly straightforward: cops need to be better trained in de-escalation tactics. And they need to know who they’re policing, just as citizens need to know who they’re being policed by.

“What happens is that a woman police officer is sitting in a squad car in a tough neighborhood,” he said. “They don't know she's a mother of three kids and coaches basketball and is a good person, and conversely the kid on the corner crossing the street with a hoodie — the police officer doesn’t know this kid may be a poet instead of a gang banger.”

Biden was optimistic, though, that the Obama administration can, its closing days, “deal with the remaining issues that affect the perception and reality of how police act in communities and how the communities act to the police,” he said.

Asked if he’d consider staying on as Hillary Clinton's vice president, Biden laughed.

“That is not my preferred route,” he said. “I have great respect for Hillary I'm going to work like the devil for her but I'm not looking to be Vice President again and no one has talked to me.”

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