The footage of the St Louis police shooting and killing Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old black man, has highlighted yet again the extreme measure American police officers take against the public when there is a perceived threat.
On Tuesday, Powell was filmed by a passerby wielding a knife and walking towards the officers, who told him repeatedly to drop the weapon. Powell didn’t, and the officers followed protocol and fired their weapons with the explicit aim of killing him (he was shot 9 times at extremely close range).
When question by CNN’s Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo today, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson defended the officers saying non-lethal methods (like Tasers) are not adequate when faced with a lethal situation.
“Certainly a Taser is an option that’s available to the officers,” said Dotson. “But Tasers aren’t 100 percent. So you’ve got an individual with a knife who’s moving towards you, not listening to any verbal commands, continues, says, ‘shoot me now, kill me now.’ Tasers aren’t 100 percent. if that Taser misses, that [individual] continues on and hurts an officer…In a lethal situation, they used lethal force.”
There’s a certain logic to that, and it’s very easy to criticize the police if you’ve had zero experience working in dangerous situations, as they do on a daily basis. They have an incredibly tough job and have to make split second decisions that could be a matter of life and death (in the most literal sense).
But how do other police forces around the world deal with knife wielding attackers? Do they resort to the same lethal tactics when presented with a potential threat? Let’s look at the UK, a nation where the police (in most cases) do not carry firearms.
In this video, a man with a large machete is standing outside Buckingham Palace. The police carefully gage their distance, then shoot him with a Taser gun. The confrontation ends almost instantaneously as the man drops the knife when his body begins to convulse:
In this video, a knife wielding man who appears to have serious mental health issues is surrounded by dozens of police officers. He goes after them, but the police avoid danger by (shock) moving out of the way:
Sure, it’s not the most effective way of dealing with the situation, but it’s infinitely better than blasting someone away who clearly needs psychiatric help.
The officers who shot Powell did have a choice. They could have moved away from him. They could have gotten back into their car to protect themselves. They could have run away. All of those options are preferable to killing someone, and those tactics are used in other countries where human life is deemed more valuable than the need to assert authority.
Police protocol in America allows police officers to apply lethal force when there is “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm … to the officer or to others.” So a police officer can basically say, “I thought the guy was a threat, so I killed him”. It’s incredibly subjective, and the broad definition and has lead to the death of around 400 people a year in America, a massively disproportionate number being black. That is compared to zero deaths from police shootings in the England and Wales for 2013/14, and zero police officers killed by attackers.
Kajieme Powell was clearly a disturbed young man. He shouted “shoot me now. Kill me now,” at the officers as he walked towards them. We’ll never know what was going on in his head or whether he could have been helped, because the officers followed protocol and determined that showing him who was boss was more important than his life.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.