2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Photo courtesy Jeff Wallace

Justice for Latjor Tuel: Black man living with PTSD murdered by Calgary police 19 days after the launch of a mental health program 

By Aymen Sherwani, February 28 2022— 

On Feb. 1, 2022 — marking the beginning of Black History Month — the Calgary Police Services (CPS) launched a five-month pilot program aimed at diverting calls related to social disorder to professionals and community members that are specifically trained to address distress. This can include mental health and wellness checks, individuals experiencing homelessness, domestic violence and addiction-related concerns, largely to be addressed by the Distress Centre and 211 Alberta. 

The pilot program comes a year and a half after thousands in Calgary attended the Black Lives Matter (BLM) vigil for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, marching in protest to end police violence. More concerningly, it comes 18 days before Calgary police shot and killed Latjor Tuel — a Sudanese immigrant that, according to his family, was struggling with the trauma of being a former child soldier living with PTSD. 

While Calgary Police affirm that officers did not know about Tuel’s mental health issues and that he was carrying a knife as well as a walking stick, what is incredibly striking is that officers resorted to attacking and provoking an already heightened Tuel, rather than prioritizing de-escalation measures. It is incredibly irresponsible for officers to prioritize the use of lethal force simply because it was not a mental health call. 

On top of this, Nyalinglat Latjor — who is organizing the funeral costs for his father — called out Calgary media for misframing the situation, saying that “[the police] say he [Tuel] attacked a police dog, but they left out that they sicked this killer dog on him while he was clearly suffering through a mental health crisis.

“A family member tried talking to them and telling them that he could de-escalate the situation […] Calgary PD refused to let him speak to [Tuel] and chose to release the K9 on him while he was already on the ground,” he added. “When he tried to defend himself against this K9 and run, Calgary PD started shooting — even after my father was lying motionless on the ground, they still had their guns drawn.”

What this affirms is that the Calgary police are not only severely under-trained in mental health training but also that race has played a significant role in the demonization of Black men. Had this been a white man running around Calgary with a machete — which has indeed happened in the last few months — you’ll find that they’ll be given due process and likely granted bail.

At first, the big question was whether or not Calgary’s pilot program will prove itself to be effective within the span of five months — but now a more sinister issue comes to light. Systemic racism prevents the mental illnesses of people of colour to be considered valid, thereby subjecting them to greater levels of police violence, should they be in distress. 

In a statement made on their Instagram on Tuel’s murder, the University of Calgary’s Black Law Student Association stated that “witnessing this makes marginalized community members feel unsafe, unprotected, and unvalued […] we should always consider how racism and sanism (in regard to mental health) perpetuate harmful police culture and reinforce systemic issues.” 

The organization goes on to criticize the statement made by Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld that Tuel was “arrestable” and questions why the head of the police department is conflating someone “experiencing a mental health crisis and committing an offense” as mutually exclusive.

At the same time, the potential performativity of the Call Diversion program itself also gets called into question, especially considering the program’s launch at the start of Black History Month but followed by no official statement from the CPS on systemic police violence against marginalized groups in Canada. On top of this, according to Global News, the CPS and Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF) allocated $11.4 million in funding to 50 initiatives, 28 of which are funded by the CPS — the five-month Call Diversion program has only been allocated $87,000 to be distributed across the services involved. 

If the CPS has indeed seen a 30 per cent spike in distress-related calls, then is this enough funding to encompass the diverse needs of individuals in this city? Or is it the bare minimum needed to say that an effort was made? Are five months enough to report on its effectiveness? Why wait to launch a seemingly-underfunded and relatively vague five-month program until the start of Black History Month but make no effort to at least verbally acknowledge the connection between systemic racism and the criminal justice system? 

Most importantly, when the CPS was informed that Tuel was undergoing a mental health crisis by his family member, why did they not disengage their weapons, secure the area and bring on professionals trained in de-escalation from such programs? 

The reality of the situation is that the CPS has a history of police violence against marginalized persons in the city. In 2017, Constable Alex Dunn was only handed a one-month hybrid house arrest and curfew sentence for physically assaulting a Black woman in Calgary — when he attempted to take off her headscarf, she resisted and Dunn threw her to the ground face first. 

Dunn, who has been pictured in blackface in the past, is a representative of the Calgary Police — no matter how much they try to distance themselves from that. So in 2022, when a Black man, who was living with PTSD, was triggered by attack dogs and gunned down in the street while the Calgary police tiptoe around issues of police brutality and systemic discrimination, one really begins to wonder whether a five-month call diversion program is the first step towards concrete change or simply a PR tactic.

I initially thought that this initiative may foster permanent and concrete measures to help vulnerable individuals in the city, like Tuel, and would give them access to professional help that caters to them rather than allowing them to be preyed upon by police officers. Nineteen days into the launch of this program, it is now clear that this is not the case.

Alberta has already been given the poorest rating for mental health and wellness in all of Canada by the Mental Health Index in 2021 — this year it came second to last to the Maritimes. What Calgary requires most out of its leadership at this time is support and the acknowledgement that marginalized communities live with traumas that they are engaged within every aspect of their beings — ignoring this is effectively criminalizing the mentally ill. The officers involved in the killing of Latjor Tuel must be held accountable — his family must be served justice. Rest in Power.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet