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Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Incident In Which Police Do Not Shoot Someone.

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 11:12 AM

In light of this week's police shooting of homeless man Jackie Collins, Mercury editor and former Seattleite Wm. Steve Humphrey called my attention to an similar incident that went down in Seattle in 1997. Police confronted a mentally-ill homeless man waving a sword around at the crowded Pike Place Market. The big difference: instead of shooting the guy, the Seattle police spent 11 hours subduing him with nonviolent methods as well as pepper spray and, finally, a fire hose. The swordsman ended the day in a mental hospital with minor bruises, rather than on the medical examiner's autopsy table.

As news reports detail, an off-duty officer saw the man with a samurai sword take a "defensive stand" and refuse to drop his sword. The officer called for backup, which arrived and blocked off the area while they employed every non-lethal trick they could think of to coax the weapon from the sword-wielding man who declared himself a God and spoke aloud with Satan. As a later account describes:

They asked him again to please put down the sword and surrender; he again refused. They offered him $50 for his sword; he ignored their bribe. They tempted him with a Big Mac; he held fast. They spoke fondly of his dead brother in hopes of changing his mind; he was unmoved. They tried reverse psychology on him, telling him Satan was preventing him from surrendering; he wasn't fooled by their lies. They shined bright lights at him; he wore shades. Growing desperate, nonleathal projectiles and pepper spray were tried; he repelled them through sheer willpower.

Big Macs, bright lights and money rather than Tasers and firearms. Interesting. After 11 long hours, the police used a firehose, ladder and sheer muscle to pin the man and pry the sword from his grip.

Why did the Seattle police spend 11 hours calming the guy down rather than shooting him? Because the city and police had learned from community outrage about a previous police shooting. From the Seattle PI:

The tactics used to subdue Tony Allison, the sidewalk swordsman who held police and the city at bay for 11 hours Thursday, were fashioned largely from a hard lesson that frayed the city's social fabric 13 years ago. Then, another man with a sword, Robert Baldwin, used his weapon to kill a police officer. But he died in a hail of bullets after a 17-hour standoff at the Yesler Terrace apartments.

Baldwin's death resulted in community friction and the appointment of a soul-searching, blue-ribbon panel of community leaders with a never-again attitude.

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