I just re-read the tragic story of the Toronto police officer, Sgt. Ryan Russell, who was killed after being struck by a stolen snowplow. Note that I said he “was killed” rather than “lost his life”... it’ll be important in a moment. Also note that I am basing my entire opinion on what is being reported - I have no special knowledge of this case beyond what is on the ‘net and in the papers.
I feel for this officer, and I feel for his family. He was doing his job, and his job is a challenging, thankless, often dangerous one. For all the controversy and bad things that The Police and individual officers do, I generally hold the police in high esteem. Yes, some of them cross the line and abuse their power - google the BC RCMP officer kicking the suspect in the head for a prime example of this and don’t even get me started about the recent G8 debacle in Toronto - but for the most part, the police are trying to do something important, keeping our society safe. And I happen to think that is a commendable thing to aim for.
His life has been snuffed out in a senseless manner, and his wife and small child will be damaged and scarred for the rest of their lives. Where once was a human being, father, husband, eleven year police veteran with a bright future ahead of him, there is now only a memory. That is tragic.
His killer is being charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of first degree murder. That seems harsh at first, after all, doesn’t first degree murder mean he had to kill the cop in cold blood? Nope, the law is very clear, if you are engaged in a criminal act, and as a direct consequence of that act someone dies, you are guilty of first degree murder, and will go to prison for life. This was originally aimed at instances of kidnaping and assault.
Now, why is this officer dead? He’s dead because 44 year old Mr. Richard Kachkar allegedly stole a snowplow and drove it into the officer. Witnesses at the scene stated that Mr. Kachkar, a homeless man who was not wearing shoes at the time, jumped into the snowplow and drove off into the night with it, driving in a dangerous “rampage” through the Toronto city streets. In that drive, he struck, and killed Sgt. Russell.
Two things jump out at me here. First, Mr. Kachkar was homeless, and secondly, he was wearing no shoes. In January. In Toronto. During his apprehension, he was shot by Toronto police. There is no information out yet as to why he was shot, but he is not facing any weapons charges - though a snowplow, as Sgt. Russell unfortunately learned, makes one hell of a weapon. And I don’t think you can easily build a roadblock that a snowplow can’t break through. It may not be a tank, but its awfully damned close. Maybe they had to shoot him, maybe they didn’t. I don’t know.
I do not mean to paint Mr. Kachkar as the victim here. No, that is unquestionably Sgt. Russell and his family. Mr. Kachkar allegedly did an illegal act, and as a result of that, should be required to face consequences if such is true. But... and there is always a but.
I fervently hope that the courts show a degree of understanding and compassion on this issue. While I can’t even begin to guess what was going on in Mr. Kachkar’s mind when he stole the snowplow, and I have no information on his situation and any challenges or traumas he was facing, I do know that he was homeless and shoeless in a Toronto winter. It was -11 degrees and snowing when this homeless, shoeless man did what he did. Does that excuse his conduct? Never. Does it show that there might be more here than meets the eye? I hope so.
Homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental illness have been shown time and time again to have intrinsic links. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that anyone wearing no shoes in a Canadian winter is dealing with issues that everyone reading this hopefully never has to deal with. You don’t have to be a saint to feel compassion for both the officer and his killer.
Here’s hoping the judicial system doesn’t fail Mr. Kachkar, while still respecting the terrible loss of Sgt. Russell. That’s a tough act to balance, but I want to believe in our system of justice. Right now, and on this issue, I need to believe it.
OK, so I am a hippie. I can live with that.