Point • Counter-point: Sgt. Russell memorial

Point

I’m sure by now most of you have seen or heard about the spectacle that has become of Sgt. Ryan Russell. If not, let’s get you up to speed. A young Toronto police officer attempted to stop a stolen snow plow and was tragically killed in the line of duty. Normally, the public and the police service would band together in the wake of such a tragedy. But that relationship has become extremely tumultuous of late, so this hasn’t been the case.

Many people have been extremely vocal during this episode about the hypocrisy of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and the ritualistic inclinations of the police service culture. These people have every right to be upset, considering the extent that the TPS would go to in honouring a fallen officer, while at the same time completely neglecting the rights of the citizenry only a few months ago with the whole G8/G20 debacle.

The TPS has really milked this incident for all its worth. Attention to police culture has been so extraneously covered in the media throughout this ordeal that it has truly taken away from Sgt. Russell’s tragedy. I saw just as many news articles commenting on how many officers showed up to Sgt. Russell’s funeral service and how far they travelled to be there. Who cares? Why is the news interviewing cops who didn’t even know Sgt. Russell or his family? All that proves is what a “boys club” the police service is.

It’s not like the Toronto Police Association recruits officers openly to go to fellow officer funerals, oh wait they actually do that (this week’s circuit includes Detroit and Miami). Just the other day, the TPS released that they were selling commemorative pins with Sgt. Russell’s badge number. All proceeds are going to a trust fund for the officer’s children.

This was a great idea, except that the pins weren’t available to the public. Seems counter-productive on all fronts, but that’s the TPS and the tight-knit “blue thread” for you. It’s good that other cops are so willing to pay tribute to a fellow officer, but you can do that from home while protecting the local streets from the occurrence of similar incidents.

That’s not to say that Sgt. Russell shouldn’t be honoured or that he doesn’t deserve such a massive funeral tribute; on the contrary. The man gave up his life to stop some lunatic and his family deserve our deepest sympathies.

What Sgt. Russell’s family doesn’t deserve are people like Chief Bill Blair and the rest of the TPS using his sacrifice as a political shield to deflect any criticism towards the police.

Sure, people honour Sgt. Russell, but that doesn’t mean they are honouring the TPS. That, however, is what Chief Blair and the TPS are likely banking on so that all their mistakes and negative public opinion will politely go away. The TPS deserves every criticism that comes its way; if they can’t handle it, maybe they should shape up. Unfortunately that’s a dream not likely to be realized.

– John Kennedy


Counter-point

The tragic death of Sgt. Ryan Russell of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) has raised a great deal of emotion across the country. The case of an emergency services worker being murdered on the job is something for which everyone in the community can show great sympathy. However, claims by some individuals that Sgt. Russell’s death is being exaggerated to dilute negative public opinion of the Toronto Police Service rooted in the handling of security during the G20 summit are absolutely preposterous. They border on denigrating the life and service this man gave to his community.

Rather than simply coming to the conclusion that the strong support shown for the life of Ryan Russell means that the Toronto Police Service must be exploiting the loss of one of their own for positive public relations points, it is necessary to reconsider why the story of a police officer being murdered in performance of his occupational responsibilities resonates so passionately.

No one deserves to die at their place of work, let alone become the victim of murder. While it is certain that the occupation of law enforcement is such that the potential for serious injury or death is ever present, the case of a police officer being murdered in an attempt to stop a disturbed criminal as we as a society would expect is truly deserving of significant recognition.

Forget for a second that Russell was a police officer on duty. The act of any individual standing up to life-threatening danger for the well-being of others is truly an act of valour. This is exactly why such a large response of compassion towards individuals like Doward Stoddard, a victim of the Tuscon shootings, who was killed saving his wife by shielding her.

While it is certain that a difference lies between the two examples in that it was Russell’s job to try to apprehend the criminal, he still lost his life attempting to apprehend someone who was clearly capable of causing serious damage to the safety of the community.

To suggest that the reason behind the strong reaction that has taken place over the past few weeks is a result of an attempt for the TPS to gain more credibility neglects the reality of human nature and how populations cope with loss when someone loses their life in a selfless act. 

 There is no doubt that citizens ought to be concerned with the issue of the treatment of protestors by law enforcement personnel during the G20 summit in Toronto. At the same time, the life and service of Sgt. Ryan Russell deserves the recognition that has been received and is in no way unmeasured. It is incumbent upon the Canadian public to treat both incidents separately if we are to give true justice to both the violation of civil liberties in June and the memory of an officer who paid the ultimate price in the service of protecting citizens from danger and enforcing the rule of law. 

– Martin Pineda

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