Cops Don’t Always Shoot the Crazy Guy

About a year ago, here in Hamilton, a man’s life was cut short when he was shot to death by two Hamilton Police Service officers. Steven Mesic left behind his girlfriend, who was carrying his unborn child at the time, as well as his parents, family, and friends. He was thirty-two years old. I cannot imagine the pain that comes with losing a child, but I am familiar with the devastation that follows such a loss and my heart goes out to his entire family.

But I’m not talking about the Mesic family this morning. I want to talk about the police. The department, the training, the two officers, the SIU, are all under fire right now as the inquest into this tragedy is wrapping up in the courthouse. The bottom line is, the jury can’t decide if Mr. Mesic was a victim of suicide or murder. And they’ve made 10 recommendations based on the case, including improved training for police when dealing with the emotionally troubled.

You’re kidding, right?

Come on.

As it turns out, Mr. Mesic was in hospital that morning. He checked himself out. He jumped in front of a bus. He headed home. Police caught up with him, somewhere on the highway side of the fence at the back of his own yard. Something went wrong then, and Mr. Mesic, with shovel in hand, was shot and killed by the officers. There’s all kinds of speculation and discrepancy around what actually happened, and understandably, the family needs to blame someone. So, of course, the two cops are taking the brunt of an assault that is wrongly aimed at them.

The blame lies, not even with the doctor who, able to assess Mr. Mesic at length in the calm, safe environment of St. Joseph’s Hospital, didn’t know how volatile his condition was that day. Nor with the family, who was well aware of the history of Mesic’s mental illness.

We all must take some measure of responsibility in this, and every other similar matter. It all comes down to the inability of our entire medical system to adequately lend aid to our mentally ill. From impossible wait times, to ridiculously tedious outpatient treatments, to the general ignorance of the public, to the complete and total lack of support post-treatment, our most vulnerable – and dangerous – citizens are left to their own devices. The Juravinskis can build all the big beautiful hospitals they want. But if there’s no system in place to actually help these people with their conditions, addictions, and demons, we’re just creating a lot of new construction jobs.

I know of what I speak. I traveled this horrible road of despair – am still on that path – trying to find help for my son who suffers terribly from a handful of mental ailments. After years of failed outpatient treatments and anger at a village that perpetually turned its back on him, he finally tried to ‘suicide-by-cop’ last summer. He was one of hundreds that the police encounter annually – and they didn’t hurt him. They were able to calm him, care for him, and get him the medical treatment he so desperately needed. After six weeks in hospital, I learned that there were no supports for him after discharge. There was no safe place for him to live where he wouldn’t be sitting right back in the middle of all of the ingredients that mixed together to create the most dangerous environment possible for his condition. I made the decision to bring him home, believing, despite the dangers his behaviour could present to myself and his siblings, that a solid loving home was the best place for him to heal. It has been a long and difficult process.

I will write his story. It needs to be told. And while he’s given me permission to talk about this, I think he needs to tell it.

In the meantime, I cannot begin to express my gratitude and confidence in the police, the department, and the training that worked together to bring my son home to us. They deal with these issues every day. They encounter the ’emotionally troubled’ at every turn; it’s the nature of their work. Yet even while our doctors have weeks, months, even years, to make a fully researched diagnosis, how, in any kind of reality, can anyone expect two cops to make that determination, in minutes, while some crazy guy is running into traffic and swinging a shovel at them?

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