Police brutality: How UK cops disarmed knife attacker and why it stirred debate over US practices

University of Cincinnati police officers Ray Tensing (L) and Phillip Kidd approach a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio © Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office / Handout via Reuter
A video of a man trying to stab two police officers with an eight-inch knife in the UK has sparked a massive debate on social media. Many contrasted the way British cops subdued the attacker without incident with the way police in the US would have done.

The footage of the incident, which happened in 2014, was released earlier this week and has gone viral on YouTube. Two police officers, Alex Prentice and Debbie Wishart, were called to handle a domestic incident in Northamptonshire and were confronted by an aggressive man. The video shows them shouting at the weapon holder, Lee Vickers, ordering him to put his knife down while the man keeps swinging the blade at them. Vickers managed to hit one officer’s protective vest with the knife but was eventually arrested and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

A statement by Northamptonshire Police praised the way the officers managed to handle the situation, saying “They both demonstrated courage, cool resilience and outstanding professionalism in the face of extreme danger.”

A number of social media users noted lamented that these are exactly the qualities that law enforcement officers in the US lack.

“This is why I feel safe living in the UK,” Oli Ahmed wrote on Facebook. “Because normal police officers don't have guns and they know how to do their jobs. Compared to American police officers.”

Another user, Marc James Depends, complained that the way US police officers handle a situation “depends on race.” He added: “I'll never forget the case of Lance Tamyo in California. He shot at the police and was subdued. In contrast to Tamir Rice or Sam Dubose both had no gun and are dead.”

“If he was Black or Latino in the US, he would have died and there would have been no remorse,” LaQuinn UnleashtheBeast Thompson wrote.

Some highlighted the unarmed status of most British police, saying that “If UK cops had guns this guy would have been shot dead!

One Facebook user wrote: “If someone came at you with a knife and you had a gun, wouldn't you shoot?”

“If a cop tells you to put a knife down, just put it down! Cooperate with the police. People act like policemen wake up every day thinking, 'I hope I get to shoot someone today.' Educating people to stop fighting the police will save more lives than taking guns from policemen,” Topper Yost wrote.

An impromptu memorial for Samuel Dubose is posted near the crime scene in Cincinnati, Ohio © William Philpott

'Justifiable homicides?'

Police brutality cases have been spreading like wildfire in the US, sparking racial tensions across the country. A heated debate regarding the use of lethal police force has been raging since last August, when Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Guardian has recently counted that as many as 663 people were allegedly killed by law enforcement in America in 2015. The death toll is said to combine “the Guardian's reporting with verified crowdsourced information.”

The total number of bullets German police used in all of 2011 was 85. Of the 85 bullets used in 2011, 49 were warnings shots, 36 were aimed at criminal suspects, 15 people were injured, and 6 were killed, Der Spiegel reported in May.

Surprisingly enough, the US government does not have a comprehensive record of how many people are killed by police. Police have to file a report every time they use their firearm in the line of duty, but either through sheer volume or disinterest, no statistics are readily available on the amount of ammunition used annually. The FBI runs a voluntary program in which law enforcement agencies submit their annual count of "justifiable homicides" defined as "the killing of a felon in the line of duty."

Law enforcement reported 742 justifiable homicides by police in 2013. Of those, police officers "justifiably killed 461 felons, and private citizens justifiably killed 281 people during the commission of crimes," according to an FBI report.

Lies, dashcams & videos of killings

The apotheosis of brutality probably occurred in April 2012, when Los Angeles police killed an unarmed Asian teen after unloading over 90 shots on him. It later turned out that Abdul Arian, 19, was once in the city’s Police Department Explorer Academy, but had been reportedly discharged for some disciplinary reasons. According to police, they noticed Arian driving erratically and tried to pull him over. He allegedly refused, only to lead several cruisers and a fleet of helicopters in a dramatic chase across Southern California. When the pursuit ended, Arian fled his vehicle and repeatedly pointed his cell phone at officers, for some reason prompting police on the scene to react as if he was aiming a handgun.

The car chase and the subsequent killing was captured by local TV news helicopters and broadcast live across the region.

According to US District Court Judge Gary Klausner: "By the time Arian fell to the ground, at least three officers had emptied their 16-round magazines." Arian had no gun, and both a search of his vehicle and a toxicology report after his death turned up clean.

A number of teenagers have recently fallen victim to police brutality. An off-duty New Jersey state trooper is currently under investigation for shooting at a car full of fleeing teenagers, who said that they mistakenly knocked on his door thinking it was a friend's home. According to NJ Advance Media, the encounter occurred early Sunday morning on July 26 at a home owned by Kissinger Barreau, a 2009 graduate of the New Jersey State Police Academy.

The initial probe of the incident found that the three teens knocked on the front and back doors of Barreau's residence in Sparta, NJ, believing they were at the home of a friend. But the off-duty trooper thought the teens were burglars, the Attorney General's office said. The trooper followed the teens into the street and tried to stop their vehicle, firing three rounds, one of which hit a tire. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Norwegian police could be a role model for all. Scandinavian cops fired just two shots in the entire of 2014, neither of which killed or injured anyone, official figures show. Officers used an opportunity to pull out their firearms only on 42 occasions in 2014, the lowest number in the last decade. They have killed two people in shootouts over the twelve year period, the statistics reveal, with fatal police shootings taking place in 2005 and 2006.

A disturbing video has been released last month, showing Colorado Springs police officer Tyler Walker, 29 at the time, going to extremes during a November 2013 arrest. Walker is shown slamming a handcuffed 18-year-old woman facedown into the ground, knocking out her teeth.

Alexis Acker suffered "trauma to the face, head, teeth and jaw; migraine headaches, concussion, closed head injuries, memory and cognitive function problems, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder." Acker's criminal attorney Cindy Hyatt said the woman's injuries would be permanent.

'Racial injustice'

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Newark, New Jersey, last week to protest against police brutality and racial injustice. A crowd of demonstrators demanded justice after a black activist, Sandra Bland, was found hanged in a Texas jail cell just three days after her detention for a minor traffic violation.

A police dashboard video of her confrontation with the trooper showed Brian T. Encinia pointing a stun gun at Bland and threatening to drag her out of the car. A video from the arrest, shot by a bystander, showed the officer forcing the woman to the ground as they argued. Bland’s death has sparked a fresh wave of outrage on Twitter, her name mentioned alongside other police brutality victims, such as Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who fell into a coma and died after being arrested by Baltimore police in April. In the wake of protests over Gray, whose death from injuries sustained in police custody triggered unrest in several US cities, Baltimore has pledged to install cameras in police vans.

A man shouts slogans while people take part in the Million People's March Against Police Brutality, Racial Injustice and Economic Inequality in Newark, New Jersey © Eduardo Munoz

Earlier this week a Cincinnati police officer, accused of killing an unarmed black man during a traffic stop, has been indicted by a grand jury and charged with murder. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Officer Ray Tensing, who pulled over a 43-year-old African-American man, Samuel Dubose, on Sunday night because the driver was missing the front license plate on his car.

After a brief struggle between the two men, Dubose’s car rolled forward, knockingthe officer to the ground. Tensing shot Dubose in the head. Announcing the murder charge against Tensing, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said that “this is the most asinine act by a police officer I have ever seen," and "without question a murder."

One video released last week, meanwhile, exposes the lie of police officers who shot at a black man they claimed had struck an officer with his car. Waterloo citizen Jovan Webb, 27, a black man, was shot five times by local police outside the New World Lounge on April 5.

Webb's attorneys reportedly accuse the Waterloo Police Department of covering up what really happened the night of the shooting. The incident occurred after police responded to a disturbance at a Waterloo nightclub where a fist fight was taking place. As officers arrived, Webb, who had nothing to do with the fight, left the bar and was about to drive off from the parking lot. Police claim, however he drove toward an officer, prompting police to open fire. Webb was shot five times but managed to drive himself to a hospital.

Webb insists he didn't know that the person who tapped on his window, dressed in civilian clothes, was an officer and denies driving toward an officer. Webb's attorney has accused Waterloo police of lying to cover up an unjustified shooting, insisting that Webb was not posing a threat to police or anybody else. Although Webb suffered multiple wounds – two in his arm, one in his chest, and two into his abdomen – he managed to drive his car to the Unity Point Health-Allen hospital, pursued by a police car. There, dripping with blood, he was handcuffed. His life was saved by medical personnel who insisted the cuffs were removed to treat the severely wounded patient. Notwithstanding extensive surgery (doctors removed part of his intestine and made an incision from his chest to his lower abdomen), Jovan Webb still has two bullets in his body, because it is not safe to extract them without causing more injury.
Webb also suffered a collapsed lung and he requires the support of a breathing machine.

Another dramatic video was released in mid-July, after months of legal battles. It showed California police officers fatally shooting an unarmed man in the Los Angeles suburbs after mistaking him and two others for robbery suspects.

The City of Gardena paid out $4.7 million to settle a federal lawsuit with the family of the deceased and his brother, who was injured during confrontation with police. Local authorities had been struggling to keep the video private, however. The incident happened on June 2, 2013, when police investigating a bicycle theft stopped Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino. The 34-year-old man was helping his brother find his stolen bike when he was rounded up as a suspect.

Witnesses said Zeferino attempted to tell officers that two other bicycle-riding friends they had stopped were the wrong men, but they wouldn't listen. An attorney for some of the men, R. Samuel Paz, told the LA Times that the newly released video distinctly showed “the cold-blooded shooting of clearly unarmed men.”

People take part in the Million People's March Against Police Brutality, Racial Injustice and Economic Inequality in Newark, New Jersey © Eduardo Munoz