The details aren’t clear yet and they may never be as to what exactly happened to Brandon Duncan in the Guelph ER. It is a near certainty though that if you are having a psychotic break with reality and happen to be holding something in your hand, the police will shoot you. It may be once, or a few times, or eight times but you will never be gently aided into care by people in white coats like in the movies. The cliche of the police standoff and takedown does apply however. It’s surrender or die. Time and again. I’ve looked hard to find such an incident that has ended peacefully in this country. If you know of one, I will gladly correct myself.
It is an automatic reflex action for a person to defensively reach for something when they feel threatened, regardless if the threat is real or imaginary. I’ve done it – half asleep thinking someone was breaking in to the basement, I found myself standing by the door with an aluminum bat in my hands with no idea how I got there or that we even had the damn thing lying around anymore. Deep in my mind there are memories of getting harassed by drunk jock assholes or having eggs lobbed at me by some clowns yelling “fag” or any number of altercations I’ve had with dickheads in one of the statistically safest cities in Canada. If you’re half asleep, you go in to automatic fight mode. If you have completely lost touch with reality, you’re still going to be on your guard. And if you don’t respond to angry armed voices screaming at you to “DROP IT!”, you will be shot. But is this necessary in absolutely every single instance? How can this possibly be the standard operating procedure? Does a plan B even exist?
The videos in the following links are violent and unsettling.
Sylvia Kilibingaitis called 911 herself, saying she had a knife and was going to kill her mother. The dash cam in the police car shows her heading for the officers, who had been screaming at her to “drop the knife”. She didn’t, so they shot her.
Michael Eligon was blocked in by multiple police cars and several officers with weapons drawn in the middle of a street. He was in a hospital gown carrying two pairs of scissors, ambling along on autopilot. He cannot drop them. From the second he enters the frame it’s obvious the situation will not end well.
Sammy Yatim was on a streetcar by himself with a knife, goading the police, calling them “pussies”. Countless officers were at the open front door. There didn’t seem to be an immediate threat to anyone except Yatim himself. He was shot multiple times, then tasered. He was 18.
These are only three of countless examples but the pattern is consistent. In police speak, the threat is always neutralized.
People in heightened emotional distress will grab whatever is handy when confronted and they aren’t going to part with whatever it is willingly, especially if someone in a uniform is yelling at them. It’s not as if you can suggest to people who are prone to altered states not to do this so they won’t get killed. The item could be (and has been) scissors, a kitchen knife, a lock and chain, a chair, a small coffee table, a stick. Thankfully, in Canada, it’s rarely if ever a gun. A witness to the incident at Guelph General said that the bleeding woman outside the ER yelled “help, my boyfriend is shooting at me!”. Accurate or not, this was the information the police went in with. There was blood on the pavement and the presence of gun was implied. Brandon Duncan, a man described as “sweet and gentle” didn’t have a chance. It is the absolute worst case scenario. It doesn’t help that the details are being kept quiet, unlike in other jurisdictions.
In 2013, the police in Iceland shot and killed someone for the first time in their history. The victim suffered from a mental illness and was randomly firing off a gun alone in his apartment. They tried to teargas him but he kept on shooting, hitting an officer in the helmet. They shot him but barging in with guns blazing was not the primary course of action. Violent incidents involving guns are rare in Iceland, even though per capita firearm ownership is very high. The entire nation, including the police themselves, went into mourning. They apologized to the man’s family and were genuinely remorseful about what had happened. Although their police structure is the same as other forces the world over, the model of applied policing they adhere to seems to be radically different. If the photos on their Instagram account are anything to go by, Icelandic cops are possibly the most likeable police force in the world. It’s time for them to widely share their methods.