On Monday August 23, Chris Amyotte, a 42-year-old father of seven, died after Vancouver police shot him six times with a bean bag gun.
This death could have been avoided and resulted from an act of police violence. It was not the first time that someone seeking help had died at the hands of police in Canada.
It wasn’t the first time a poof gun had been used in similar circumstances either. In 2019, a 35-year-old unarmed man was shot three times with a pellet gun in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
‘Bean bag guns’, touted as a non-lethal alternative to bullet weapons, should be more accurately described as blunt impact projectiles, as these large silicone bullets can cause severe pain, internal injury and death. .
Media coverage following Amyotte’s death reported that he was clearly “unarmed”, that he had just been doused by bears and was pouring milk obtained from a convenience store over his head to incapacitate the intense burning pain. Given the circumstances, he behaved as many of us would have.
He was also described as “asking for help”. So why, instead of helping him, was he shot six times?
Police violence is a health issue
As nurses with the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, we have experience and expertise in helping people in crisis. We are seeing an escalation of mischief in our communities at the hands of the police. We view the death of Chris Amyotte and the increase in police-involved deaths in Canada as nothing less than state violence. Police violence threatens public health, impacts population health, and prevents communities from growing and thriving.
Following the 2020 death of American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, many Canadians expressed their gratitude that we do not have the same problem in Canada.
It’s wrong. We have our own issues with police violence that disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as those struggling with mental health and addiction issues. We just don’t track it very well. Police violence in low-income areas of Canada is evidence of the disproportionate trauma inflicted on a daily basis.
The physical and psychological trauma perpetuated by law enforcement harms communities. Large-scale police operations in cities across Canada mobilize police to control, restrain and move homeless people.
Displacing people living in encampments and sheltering outside violates their rights, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing has found in the report “A national protocol for homeless encampments in Canada” . This protocol states that “resettlement should not result in continued or worsening homelessness, nor require the fracturing of families or partnerships,” but that is exactly what police officers are doing when they violently move people. homeless.
Indigenous people, who disproportionately experience homelessness in urban areas, are also more likely to be shot by police.
Why would someone whose property is repeatedly seized and disposed of by police, someone who sees members of their own community injured and killed by police, believe that law enforcement may also have to their best interests in mind?
The issue of police brutality is relevant to nursing because social justice is a health care issue. Police violence is a threat to basic rights like housing, education and access to services like health care, and increases the risk of death and chronic disease.
A call to action
There are different ways to get involved and take a stand against police brutality. As nurses, we are patient advocates and activists. Police violence is a threat to individual health and community health. People are being physically injured and dying as a result of police action and communities are traumatized day after day, unable to trust those who are publicly funded to ‘keep communities safe’. But which communities are protected?
The Harm Reduction Nurses Association supports calls to action to end police violence already made by human rights experts, legal experts and communities facing police violence. We support calls for a national database that tracks instances of deadly force, including data based on race and gender. We call for legislative reforms to police laws that give independent and transparent civilian-led police oversight organizations the authority to implement recommendations from investigations.
Most importantly, we call for defunding policing, reallocating funds to trauma-informed and culturally safe crisis de-escalation supports, and social, health and housing systems that improve health global community.
As nurses, we must stand up against violent and discriminatory police practices that target Indigenous peoples, people of color, and people with mental health and addictions issues. We must advocate for accountability when ineffective and harmful law enforcement practices are used under the guise of helping communities.
We live in a country that claims to be a leader in human rights. When cries for help are answered with gunshots and silicone bullets, it’s time to use our power to make a difference.