Friends and family of Latjor Tuel gathered on Monday in northeast Calgary to mourn the death of a man well-known in the community who was killed by police.
“He was a genuine and kind man. He was always happy,” said Latjor’s niece Nya Tuel. “He always did all he could to help others,”
Dozens of people attended a meeting organized in part by the Calgary African Community Collective. Members said they wanted to make it clear that the man killed by Calgary police on Saturday was not a criminal.
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“We condemn this hateful act,” said Charles Odame Ankrah, president of the Ghanaian Canadian Association of Calgary. “This is a serious issue.
“Systemic racism is rife in our life and in our society,”
Surveillance video captured by a nearby business shows Tuel approaching police with what appears to be a weapon and striking a police dog.
Police said they responded to reports of a man with a weapon and that witnesses allege he had assaulted one person and was threatening others, and that attempts to de-escalate the situation failed.
Friends of Tuel said the man was carrying a cane because he had a leg injury. They also say he was struggling with mental health issues.
At Monday’s meeting, many in attendance said the situation should have been handled differently.
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“Let’s look (past) the (skin) colour. Let’s look at ourselves as Calgarians,” said Sudanese advocate Lina Atak.
“It could’ve been you. It could’ve been myself. It could be anybody here that could’ve been struggling with mental health.”
“Our brother (Tuel) was not a criminal and he was not a danger to society. He was not a danger when he was sitting. He was simply a Calgarian that was enjoying his meal while he was waiting for the bus,” Atak said.
Tuel’s daughter Nya organized an online memorial fundraiser on Monday that has already raised $35,000.
Mental health response from Calgary police
In 2020, Calgary’s police chief committed to having experts in social work, mental health and community outreach partner with CPS when responding to incidents.
“It would have been useful to have had an on-scene mental health assessment that would be informing the police response to that. Calgary needs to move forward on that,” said Doug King, professor in the department of justice studies at Mount Royal University.
“In other jurisdictions there are joint responses involved — mental health personnel and police personnel that are actually in a team. They respond to situations like this.
“Edmonton for example has such a response,” King said.
In a statement on Monday, the Calgary Police Commission recognized the tragedy of Tuel’s death.
“The Calgary Police Commission’s thoughts are with his family and friends in this time of grief.
“We know the decision to use lethal force is not one that police officers take lightly,” the city’s civilian police oversight body wrote.
The police commission pointed to the ASIRT investigation launched on Saturday, adding it will be seeking more information from the CPS this week.
“Improving the de-escalation practices and use of force options available to officers remains a priority for our Commission, as do looking for better ways to respond when people are in crisis and ensuring equity for all people in our city,” the statement continued.
“We are committed to following this investigation closely to ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent deaths like this in the future.”
Last year, $8 million was dedicated to the city’s Community Safety Investment Framework, which helps fund crisis-response programs and alternative response models for mental health and addictions issues.
“For the past couple of years, there have been many initiatives by the Calgary police, by the federal government, by the provincial government, but in reality it’s still happening. There is no change yet,” said Farah Ali Calgary African Community Collective executive director.
“No matter how much money you put in, the end result is this.”
Those grieving the loss of a father, an uncle and friend are seeking answers and ways to prevent another tragedy.
“I am hoping we will be able to celebrate his life and bring awareness to mental health, and hopefully change the tactics on how the police deal with people,” Nya Tuel said.