Following the news that Constable James Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder, his lawyers stated that they were disappointed the jury was not allowed to hear the "suicide by cop" argument. This was ruled out by Superior Court Justice Edward Then, and Forcillo's lawyers had to take a different tack. This shows an enlightened approach by Then, hopefully one indicative of our society's views as a whole.
And yet a recent Forum Research poll showed that 41 per cent of respondents thought the argument should have been heard. That is not to say that they agreed with it, but they found its logic sound.
The argument that an officer of the law should be allowed to grant a mentally unstable individual a premature death by shooting, simply because that individual wanders into the street with a knife, is unsound. It goes against the police motto and main purpose, which is "To Serve and Protect." This implies that their job is in service to the public at large, including those who are not permanently in full control of their faculties. And occasionally those same people do need protecting -- from themselves.
Of course, police should be able to protect themselves, even using lethal force when no other options are available. After all, it's well-known that sometimes a suspect with a bladed object on a drug such as PCP can move remarkably quickly and take a surprising amount of damage before going down. And they can have lethal intent, with no options but to respond in kind with lethal force. But why should that be the default stance?
In a country that is currently divided over right-to-die legislation -- the notion that those whose health and quality of life have been irreparably diminished should have a right to choose when they die -- how is it that so many people think that the most sure-fire option a person has to end their own life should be to grab a knife and approach a police officer? If the courts continue to rule that police have the right to shoot dead any individual who experiences thoughts of depression and decides to go into public with a pointy object, then the right to die argument can be considered over.
That Forcillo's lawyers felt that it was a logical argument to say that Sammy Yatim had sudden thoughts of suicide, went into public wanting to die, and that it was Constable Forcillo's duty to oblige him, is absurd to the point of being inhuman. Again, the job of a police officer is not to grant the suicidal wishes of an individual who is mentally, emotionally, or cognitively imbalanced. Our police should not exist to euthanize us based on our variable valuation of our own lives.
The "suicide by cop" scenario does exist though, and it is a perfect example of why police need more de-escalation techniques. These people do not need to be put down by officers who in turn are traumatized and mentally damaged by the incident. Instead the cycle of mental illness needs to be addressed, and it's not a problem that can be put down with a bullet.