Toronto’s police chief explained why his officers showed professional restraint when arresting a suspect who killed nearly a dozen pedestrian on Monday. That’s in stark contrast to American cops who, all too often, use lethal force as a first choice–especially when the suspect is a Black man.
The suspect, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, was expected to appear in court on Tuesday morning. He’s accused of deliberately driving a rental van onto the sidewalk of a busy downtown Toronto street and running over pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring 15 others.
Video footage showed Minassian in a tense standoff with the police after his damaged vehicle stopped. He reached toward his pants pocket and extended one arm, appearing to point an object that could have been a gun at an officer. The cop, with his weapon drawn and pointed at Minassian, stepped slowly toward him and yelled, “Get down, get down.” The encounter ended nonviolently, with the suspect in handcuffs.
Later, reporters asked police Chief Mark Saunders how his officers made the arrest without shooting the suspect.
He gave the perfect answer: “It’s directly related to the high caliber training that takes place,” Saunders said. “The officers here are taught to use as little force as possible in any given situation.”
That’s quite different from the United States, where lethal force is justified if cops claim that they feared for their lives or believed in their mind that the person was armed.
The case of Saheed Vassell is a prime example. Four officers — one in uniform, three in plainclothes — killed 34-year-old Vassell in a hail of 10 bullets April 4 on a Brooklyn sidewalk. The officers responded to calls about a Black man with a gun. But it turned out that Vassell, who reportedly suffered from bipolar disorder, was holding a pipe. No firearm was found at the scene.
Surveillance video showed that the cops shot him dead within seconds of exiting their vehicles. They didn’t warn him to drop the object or use any de-escalation alternatives to lethal force, according to witnesses.