About 50 people gathered on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Saturday at a rally in memory of a Sudanese man killed by police in Calgary last month.
Rhonda Thompson, a member of Black History Manitoba, said while the death of Latjor Tuel happened two provinces away, it was important to her to stand in solidarity with communities affected by police violence.
“Though this event didn’t happen here in Manitoba, we know that we’ve experienced the same thing,” Thompson said.
Tuel, an immigrant and former child soldier, was shot by police on Feb. 19 while he was in mental distress.
Martino Laku, president of the Council of the South Sudanese Community of Manitoba Inc., said in a news release on Thursday that Tuel’s death reminds the Sudanese community in Manitoba of the death of Machuar Madut, who was killed by Winnipeg police in 2019.
Madut, who came to Canada after fleeing Sudan and a Kenyan refugee camp, had mental illness and a poor grasp of English, according to a member of Winnipeg’s South Sudanese community who knew him.
Thompson said Saturday that deaths like Madut’s and Tuel’s are “senseless and they’re unnecessary.”
“It’s unfortunate that supports are not being put in place for the community,” she said. “I just want to stand and make sure that my voice is heard to ensure that this doesn’t continue to happen.”
Tuel was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time he was killed, his family and the wider South Sudanese community have said.
His death is now being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.
Several calls were made to police the afternoon he was killed, stating that Tuel had allegedly assaulted someone with a wooden stick and was carrying a knife.
Officers fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disarm the man and another used a Taser on him as he approached them, according to police. Two officers fired their guns after Tuel stabbed a police dog in the neck with the knife, Calgary police said.
Calgary police have defended their actions.
“This situation involved a person, armed with weapons, who had committed an assault,” police Chief Mark Neufeld said on Feb. 22. “This was a police call and police were the appropriate resource.”
But the death has left members of Calgary’s South Sudanese community asking whether Tuel’s killing was influenced by the colour of his skin and whether police employed de-escalation techniques properly.
Laku’s Thursday news release said mental health issues like the ones Tuel lived with are common among people affected by war, and that as a former child soldier, he was “failed by an inadequate mental health system.”
Thompson said incidents like Tuel’s death show a clear need for more mental health supports, particularly for Black people.
“The fact that, again, that we still have to be here today … it’s sad. It truly is sad,” Thompson said.
“Mental health is important and Black mental health has been overlooked for many years. So if this isn’t a sign that something needs to be done, I don’t know what is.”
Perla Javate, co-chair of the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba, said it was important to her organization — which is made up of immigrants, refugees and people of various different backgrounds — to show solidarity at the rally too.
“There’s no reason why mental health [issues are] not addressed in the right way, and we need to express it because our system has failed us time and again. And we need to do something, make sure that there’s change happening so no more lives are sacrificed,” Javate said.
She called for a review of police training to include more intercultural sensitivity training and components addressing how to handle situations involving people with mental health issues.
“Sometimes people react because they perceive different things from people from different nationalities,” Javate said.
“So it’s important for them, for our police officers who are supposed to protect us, to make sure that they understand us, that they don’t have to be scared of us.”