Purse snatcher stabs wannabe hero

This incident happened a few years ago in Belgium, in the Brussels subway. A purse snatcher tries to get away after scoring some loot and a wannabe hero tries to stop him. Here’s what happened:


Some thoughts:

  • I applaud the guy for trying to stop the purse snatcher. It’s a noble act and takes courage, which many people seem to lack these days. So regardless what you think of the guy, he stood up when others didn’t. Tip of the hat to him for that.
  • Unfortunately for him, stopping an armed thief isn’t something most people have a lot of training or experience with. So trying it out of the blue can backfire on you, as it does here. You should take that into account before making such a decision. The criminals usually have a lot more experience with violence than you do, so you’re behind the curve already.
  • His timing is pretty good though. The purse snatcher is running full tilt and he comes at him out of the cart at a right angle, right before the thief passes his position. As a  result, the thief tries to evade the tackle but can’t get away in time. That’s the end of the good news…
  • Personally, I’d have tried to trip the thief instead of trying to grab him. This usually leaves you on your feet while the other guy does a face plant. If you’re quick and it goes well, you can be on him before he has the time to get back up again. At the very least, you can decide to run when you see he has a knife…
  • Which brings us to another point: the thief didn’t seem to have the knife out during the purse snatch. You can see him reaching into his right jacket pocket just as he starts running. So the odds are good the hero didn’t know the guy had a knife when he saw the theft in the cart and decided to intervene. He probably wouldn’t have tried wrestling techniques had he know that he was up against a guy with a knife.
  • Which brings us to the tactics of the fight. The flying grab worked well enough but afterwards it turns into a big mess. We’re missing a few seconds in the video but you see the hero grab the purse snatcher in a headlock/guillotine choke. Right away, the thief pumps out 5-6 stabs to the gut and side. At least one of those stabs came real close to the kidneys, which can be a killing strike.
  • It takes all these stabs for the hero to realize he’s hurt and let go. Fortunately for him, the criminal runs away instead of adding a final attack to finish the job. Regardless, the damage is done by the time the man realizes he’s hurt. Even though he lets go, it’s too late and all he can do is hope others help him survive. He’s lucky in that a bunch of bystanders, subway security and paramedics are there quick enough. Had he been in a less busy or public location, he could have bled out before help arrived…
Purse snatcher stabs wannabe hero

The purse snatcher stabs the hero in the kidneys

When you decide to intervene in a crime, be aware of the potential harm that may come upon you. If you do so anyway, consider your opponent armed and willing to use his weapons. Assuming otherwise is naive and can get you killed. The man who intervened in this incident was taken to the hospital in critical condition. I don’t know if he made it and if he did, what kind of lasting physical problems he now suffers from. Or if he would do it all again knowing what he knows now.

Like I said before, he should be commended for trying to stand up to the thief. Had he been successful, we all would have gone Rah-Rah! over how the bad guy got what was coming to him. So there’s no need to chastise him now for failing to get the job done. The only think you can do here is try to learn from the incident and hopefully do better if a similar incident comes your way.



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  1. Shane MacLaughlin says

    I think our wannabe hero made a mistake in even trying to do what he did. He was escalating a crime of theft into violence where no one else appeared to be in any physical danger, not very clever in my book. The safer attack on the purse snatcher might have been to hit them hard enough to put them on the deck, but then you run a greater risk of getting prosecuted for assault / abh or even gbh depending on how much damage you inflict. Fair enough if someone else is at risk perhaps, but hardly worth it for a purse.

    Very difficult to weigh all this stuff up in the heat of the moment, of course. I chased three lads that broke into my house a number of years ago. It took me a good distance to realise that I was outnumbered, and well into a rough area before I copped on that the probability of a good outcome was remote a beat a hasty retreat. Unless you’re used to confrontation, you tend to react first and think later. I hope the guy in your video came out ok and all kudos for bravery, just not for smarts.

    • He wasn’t escalating the crime into violence, the guy with the damned knife was.

      I disagree vehemently with your philosophical point of emergence.

      • Shane MacLaughlin says

        First violent act I see is the purse snatcher being brought to the ground with a flying take down of some kind. Up until that point the crime that was committed was theft, he added probable assault (no one else at threat at the time, so no self defence argument), and ended up as a victim of grievous bodily harm. It’s not a philosophical point, it’s how I see the video, and my best guess of how the law would see the video. Our would be hero ended up as a victim, as this can be ascribed in some part to his poor judgement.

        • Shane,
          There is no video of what happened inside the subway cart. For all we know, the thief already hurt somebody in the cart before he ran. So you can’t comment either way on how the courts would see it, which is why I didn’t: I stuck to the tactical aspects of what the guy did for that reason.
          I understand your point but I agree with Aaron (who knows a thing or two about violence BTW and has my utmost respect…): the thief is the one who caused everything, not the man trying to stop him. He chose to steal so he should accept the consequences. Sometimes, that means you get beaten up a bit. Not fun perhaps but if you chose to step outside of society’s laws, don’t expect other people to stick to them either when you’re concerned.
          As for self-defense, no, that was indeed not an argument here. However, Belgian law specifically states defense of others as a lawful use of violence. IMO, a smart lawyer could argue that in the guy’s defense.
          Like I wrote, I applaud the guy for standing up when nobody else did. It went horribly wrong but that doesn’t change that his heart was in the right place. If everybody would stand up against these kinds of thieves, society would be better for it. Right now, modern society breeds a culture of submission towards all forms of crime and violence. And it punishes those who don’t want to roll over and die. I think that’s ass-backwards. It’s the criminals who should live in fear of the citizenry at large, not the other way around.

          • Hum…

            As I see it, the stabee introduces violence into the scene. I call that escalation. This does not imply, nor should it, that he isn’t doing what should be done. There’s no way to stop crime effectively if you play “catch up”. I think I’ve read in a couple of places that it was pretty effective to use a level of force or two above what’s being used for the crime. You might argue I’ve used it a couple of times –no more, true–.

            Escalation is just a tool. And it happens to work, when used at the right time.

            Take care.

  2. Gasp! You’re not saying, are you, that grappling is dangerous, right? You aren’t!

    Take care. See you soon.

  3. Shane, Ferran-

    I submit to you that if I forcibly remove your property from your person, I have committed a violent act against you. I am making unwelcome physical contact, violating your human rights. Doing so while armed, and openly displaying my weapon, is considered armed robbery; which is (assuming memory serves me correctly) classified as a violent crime.

    Your mileage may vary.

    • Yes. _You_ will have committed violence against _me_. The guy three train cars down is another matter.

      Again, this does not mean he shouldn’t do it. I’m all for that.

      I guess part of my mindset comes from a wish to separate things: as I see it, following your idea, if the mugger got a SWAT team at home instead of the volunteer at the scene there would be no escalation / introduction of violence. From mine, there is. The first even already ended. It’s related, of course, but a new one. In my mindset, same applies to the video: there’s a first event off-camera, and a second one on-camera.

      Again, it’s only a classification, not a moral judgement.

      • I disagree. They are all part of the same chain of events. The tackle was directly resultant to the theft. Just as would be the SWAT presence, yes. Because when you go around robbing people, the police will show up with guns. Action, reaction. Inextricably tied to one another.

    • Shane MacLaughlin says

      Aaron, true of course, but this is not on the video, so it is speculation as to whether that’s how it happened. It is equally possible that the purse was snatched without the weapon being brandished, we simply don’t know from what we can see. If your assertion is correct, and our hero was aware that the purse snatcher was armed, using grappling techniques without attempting to first remove the weapon seems ill advised at best. For this reason, I suspect he wasn’t aware the weapon, or the possibility that an armed assault had just taken place.

      • The knife is in his hand as he’s exiting the subway. And there are two people who jump out of his way with “terrified” in their body language. This, to me, minimizes the speculation. Right hand, so the guy who tackled him probably didn’t see it.

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