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Police Violence and Mental Health - A Dangerous Crossroads

Sammy-Yatim-2-473x315The tragedy of Sammy Yatim - the 18 year-old shot to death on a Dundas st streetcar after brandishing a knife - is rightly making headlines across the country. But as questions swirl around the state of the teen’s mental health, the issue is anything but simple.

The public is largely laying blame square on the shoulders of the police - and understandably so. Police enter the force knowing full well that the job description requires them to sometimes put themselves in harm’s way - not simply to offload a clip of bullets into someone when they don’t put down a 3 inch knife. But if Sammy was in fact suffering from a mental health issue - he reportedly looked crazed, intense, with eyes wide open, a clenched jaw, and had exposed himself to passengers - then the critical dialogue changes. Especially when one learns that about 1 in 3 police shootings resulting in death or injury involve people diagnosed with or suspected of having a mental illness.

If Sammy was not mentally fit, then blaming the frontline and naming “police violence” as the sole culprit stops the conversation short.

The truth is that the problem starts way up the food chain. Canada only spends 7 cents of every healthcare dollar on mental health...but the healthcare change purse is tightening, even as mental health cases increase: today 1 in 5 people in Canada suffer from mental illness. Add to that the fact that Harper is choosing to syphon more and more money into the corrections system - increasing Corrections budgets by 54% or $3.12 billion from 2012-2013 - it’s little wonder that jails are filling up with people who would be better placed in health care centres managing mental health and addictions problems. Add to this the fact that police academies do not adequately train new recruits to handle people experiencing mental crisis, and the rabbit hole goes deeper.

video.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxThis doesn’t excuse the obvious idiocy behind the Sammy Yatim shooting. 22 police officers should never discharge 9 bullets at an individual armed with nothing but a knife - let alone after only a few minutes of trying to coax him to put said knife down - but the problem is clearly more complex.

Harper is grossly mismanaging our public dollars. Less money needs to go to massive correctional facilities, and more money needs to go to treating mental illnesses, and training police to properly deal with mental health crises. It’s a question of priorities, and Harper’s are way out of whack. People are losing their lives. If this doesn’t move Harper to drastically alter where he’s placing his funds and his focus, nothing ever will...Except US - the people!!

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