It was a completely innocent walk to the post office, most specifically the Shoppers Drug Mart at Queen & Beverly – my local one. I dropped off my mail, took a jaunt over to the LCBO to replenish some stock, noticed they were closed, and turned to head home. As I passed back in front of the post office, there stood a man who appeared to be high, likely on meth as evidenced by his shaking, muttering, and erratic posture. As I got within about a step of him I realized he was brandishing a sharp metal spike in right hand, something I could only see at the last second. Motherfucker has an ice pick.
I immediately open my body to skirt around him outside of arms reach and backed away as quickly as possible. He didn’t explicitly lunge or swing at me, but his erratic body posture put me on alert, and as he took a step towards me, I immediately reacted. I got within a safe distance and then I was faced with a pretty considerable moral and ethical dilemma. What do I do now?
On one hand, this is a guy who’s clearly a threat to the public, he’s brandishing a weapon, he’s showing all the tell-tale signs of someone high on methamphetamine (and if you know anything about people on meth, it’s that they’re really bloody unpredictable), and my gut told me this could escalate into someone with a hole in their body real bloody quickly if this dude’s mood changes or someone looks at him wrong. On the other hand, I know the police are probably going to fuck this guy up when they respond.
Was this guy just high? Was he in a mental health crisis? Was he delusional? I really didn’t know, but I did know he’s got a weapon, and he’s making gestures towards people walking by him. In the 20 seconds I thought about what to do next, he did make postures towards no less than 10 other people who’d passed him since. I picked up the phone and decided to call it in. With all of the recent stabbings on the TTC and throughout the city, something really just didn’t feel right, and if I woke up tomorrow to hear someone was stabbed last night by this guy, I don’t know it’d really mess me up emotionally for a long time.
Within 60 seconds of being on the line with 911, giving them a description of the man, location, confirming nobody was visibly injured or being attacked, and the usual questions, 3 bike cops roll past me clearly dispatched to this call. I point forward to where he is, the tailing cop says “you the caller”? “ya”. They didn’t even hesitate to drop their bikes in the middle of the road, jump off surrounding him, all 3 yelling “hands up” or something, with one hand at their waist and the other pointing at him. He dropped his weapon, turned his back to them, put his entire body directly up against a shop window and had his hands behind his back interlocked IMMEDIATELY with absolutely no resistance and without saying a word. From the moment they hopped off their bikes to the point he was fully in cuffs, it was no more than 10 seconds, absolute tops. It happened incredibly quickly.
Within 20 seconds of this, 3 cruisers were on scene, and there must have been 8 officers now all over the sidewalk, two of which were now directly talking to me “you’re the guy who called?”, “ya”, “ok, hold on, we want to talk to you”. I couldn’t make out what was happening with the dude as he was about 25′ away and inside an alcove of a shop doorway – but he was sitting, and presumably being questioned by about 4 cops. A lot of people stopped, trying to figure out what was happening, a bunch with phones out. I was still trying to make sense of what just transpired in the past 150 seconds.
Two cops begin to talk to me, I give them a detailed account of the two minutes from when I realized the LCBO was closed, to him brandishing an ice pick, to them arriving on scene. They took every detail and had me recount the story about 5 times, getting the most mundane of detail correct in their log book. They told me I was good to go after about 10 minutes of talking and I began to walk home.
The entire time I was being questioned, I kept thinking “what’s going to happen to this guy”? He’s going to end up in jail for the night, he’s probably homeless, probably doesn’t have ID, is likely already in the system multiple times, is probably a known person to the police, is probably suffering from addictions, and is likely battling at least a few mental health concerns. What have I just done? Was I right? Did I just make this man’s life worse?
But, public safety. If this was just a guy high and muttering, I leave him be. He’s got a weapon – and he’s very unpredictable. And, making gestures towards people in a threatening manner. Like, could he not have been holding a weapon, and this whole thing could have been avoided?! Ugh.
As I talked to a friend about the whole thing, she said “maybe he needed a safe place to sleep tonight”? It dawned on me, this is a real possibility. Maybe he was trying to scare people in hopes someone would call the police so he’d end up in jail. Maybe the visible signs of being high was an act? After all, he was VERY responsive and VERY clear headed as soon as he realized the police were there. He didn’t say a word, didn’t even hesitate for a SECOND. He dropped what was in his hand, turned immediately, was pressed up against a window and had his hands behind his back fully ready to be handcuffed in 2 seconds tops. As if he was fully waiting for it. He didn’t resist being handcuffed, and seemed completely calm as soon as the cuffs were on him. He wasn’t screaming, or putting up a fight, and the demeanor of the officers surrounding him certainly didn’t put off a vibe that they felt threatened in any way.
I didn’t get a look at the weapon clearly, but it was in an evidence bag and it passed by me in the hands of an other officer. The slight glimpse I got, it could have been a dirty silver longish drill-bit. I swear it looked like an ice pick in his hand, but in that evidence bag it didn’t seem to have a “handle” per say. I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t want to ask.
It got me thinking.. maybe he needed a meal? Maybe he needed a safe and warm place to sleep tonight? Maybe he had an agenda to seek something he considered safety through the means of being in jail? Maybe he was trying to “scare” the public but not actually harm anyone? He did have his hood up, he had a scraggly beard, but didn’t seem “dirty” as if he’d been on the streets for months. His clothes weren’t in tatters, and he actually seemed relatively sane, besides the erratic behavior, stumbling, and muttering. His shoe laces were done up, I believe. Did I answer his call for help in some really odd way?
If that WAS his intention, and somehow I was the one who made it a reality, how horrible is that? What type of a place must someone be in, to want to get arrested so they’ll have a warm place to sleep and a meal? What if this guy just lost his shitty job last month, got kicked out because he couldn’t pay rent, and after a night or two on the streets, this is what he’s figured is the best option? What if he’s homeless and travelled into Toronto in hopes of finding some sort of resources, but realized he’s screwed? What if a month ago his wife left him, took everything, and he found himself on the streets? What if this guy was perfectly sane and knew what he was doing all along? The signs kind of point to this being intentional based on the reaction of him, and the very subdued nature of the responding officers once he was in custody. They didn’t take him down, they didn’t use anything remotely close to excessive force, and frankly I was beside myself at how smooth it all went.
Don’t get me wrong, I have VERY serious concerns about the police, TPS specifically. The atrocities they commit on a daily basis are not only inexcusable, but they’re downright criminal. I am incredibly concerned about the way they treat the most marginalized and oppressed people they interact with – but this… this was if they were taking into custody an 80 year old white billionaire who’d surrendered himself for jaywalking.
I’ll never know what his real motives were, or what happened to him after I left. I did stop in for a bite to eat a block away and as I exited about 10-15 mins later I could see there was at least 2 cop cars still there, so I guess they hadn’t taken him away yet. Did this guy end up in 52’s basement holding cells, the same basement holding cells that housed a disabled man whom officers flicked urine at on Jan 28 2009, denied it happened, claimed the video surveillance tapes were “taped over”, then magically “found them” in 2014 after he spent years pushing the privacy commissioner and police watchdogs?
That’s Udhbirprasaud Bhikram, or “Joe” – the guy who 52 division officers completely violated his rights, and then tried to cover it up. Good on him for keeping with it – even though those crooked cops won’t face a single consequence, historically speaking.
I know that doing what we’re doing right now needs to be improved, if only evidenced by my experiences tonight. I do however believe we are moving in the right direction, albeit it’s WAY too slow, and nowhere near enough resources. The calls to defund the police are a massive start – and for those of you who read this and think “oh, you want to just take the police away? Who would you have called tonight, then?!” – it’s NOT about that. It’s about diverting PART of the police budget to specifically trained crisis councilors, mental health experts, and people who can assist FAR better than a person holding a gun & taser as their line of defense. When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail. Why do we not have people who can attend calls for mental health situations, who are trained on mental health. Police, are not.
But, we do now have operators working INSIDE Toronto Police headquarters that are specifically trained mental health professionals, who don’t work for TPS, but Gerstein Crisis Center. I feel a small sense of pride knowing I had a very small hand in providing them the telecom & managed services infrastructure that allows them to do what they do. Eh, it’s something to be proud of, I think.
Further, Gerstein developed the TCCS (Toronto Community Crisis Service) which sends trained responders to calls involving a mental health crisis instead of officers. The stats are clear over a 6 month period from March 31 – Sept 30 2022.
When you read those stats, that’s incredible. But, the one that means the most to me is out of 2489 calls, 799 of those got referrals to specialized clinics based on their specific needs. This means that instead of ending up in a jail cell, or with a police record, these people in need of help got the help they actually needed and given the tools, or at least the first step in solving their needs. That is massive.
Looking back on my experience tonight, I described the concern to 911 as “a man with an ice pick who seems unstable and likely high on drugs making threatening gestures towards people”. What if I was to classify it as “a man that seems mentally unwell” instead? Would the response have been different? Would crisis workers shown up instead of 12-14 police officers, 3 cruisers, and multiple bikes? Maybe. Would they have been able to intervene better? Would this guy end up with a meal and a safe place instead of likely a jail cell tonight? Maybe? I really don’t know.
I didn’t have time to think about all of this in the moment, and I stand by my actions. If he wasn’t holding a weapon, I wouldn’t have called – I wouldn’t have even thought of it. But, when the safety of the public is threatened by what I perceived to be an ice pick in someone’s hand and that hand is making small swiping motions while the person shows all signs of being on very unpredictable amphetamines, I really feel like I don’t have a choice. And, while I will always speak out against excessive use of force and how corrupt TPS can be, tonight they seemingly handled this in an excellent manner.
However, it makes me think.. Could tonight have been different? What if it was James Forcillio responding – you know – the thug cop who murdered Sammy Yatim? What if this guy didn’t immediately surrender? What if. What if….. I guess I’m just thankful that nobody got hurt, things went about as good as they could have gone considering the circumstances – but more than anything, I really fucking feel for that man. I don’t know what he’s going through, but he’s not in a good place, and I sincerely hope he’s able to find the help he needs, and that it’s provided to him.