Almost 20 years after the infamous “Samurai Man” incident brought downtown Seattle to a standstill, cops in the Jet City have another fellow in custody who was waving a folding knife around, stopping traffic and holding police at bay.
Tuesday’s incident ended when the “knife man” put down his blade, a side lock model with a partly serrated tanto-style blade – according to an image published on the Seattle Police Blotter – and this time the cops didn’t have to haul out a firehose, as they did in April 1997. Timing was everything in that caper. Had “Samurai Man” waited another month before pulling his sword in public, he might have had the wrong audience and a far different outcome.
Early May 1997 saw tens of thousands of National Rifle Association members gathering in Seattle for their annual convention. It was the best armed gathering in recent memory.
Both incidents give rise to questions about how to effectively deal with such individuals when public safety is at stake. Tuesday’s incident saw police use a Taser to no avail. Finally, they coaxed him to drop the knife and he was taken to Harborview for evaluation.
Twenty years ago, after an 11-hour standoff, police knocked “Samurai Man” to the ground with a blast of water from a firehose. That was after they had tried to disable him with bean bag rounds from shotguns.
In both cases, Seattle police used remarkable restraint and took both men into custody. Under state statute, it is possible both could have ended up dead.
Washington state law on the use of deadly force by police covers quite a bit of ground. It is specific about the circumstances in which that degree of force may be used. And, the statute includes an interesting footnote:
“The legislature recognizes that RCW 9A.16.040 establishes a dual standard with respect to the use of deadly force by peace officers and private citizens, and further recognizes that private citizens’ permissible use of deadly force under the authority of RCW 9.01.200, 9A.16.020, or 9A.16.050 is not restricted and remains broader than the limitations imposed on peace officers.”
By no small coincidence, the use of lethal force in self-defense is a key assertion in another case unfolding in Seattle that involves a January shooting at the University of Washington campus during a protest against an appearance by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
Washington law also covers use of deadly force by private citizens, in a separate section that may be read here. The statute has been essentially unchanged for more than 30 years.
These incidents raise one more question, for the armed private citizen. Confronted by someone waving a sword, knife or some other weapon – or perhaps just bare hands; more people are killed annually by fists or feet than the combined total who are killed with rifles and shotguns – what does the legally-armed citizen do? What is the best course of action?
It is estimated that more than 15 million Americans are licensed to carry, including more than 575,000 in Washington State. One of those citizens killed an axe-wielding man last year at a convenience store south of Seattle.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to any of this. Suffice to say that Tuesday’s case will once again raise public awareness about self-defense and public safety, and remind people that police are not as quick on the trigger as is often alleged.