Released from the territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.
On the morning of Monday, August 22, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) murdered someone, again. The police presence in the DTES has lost any veneer of “public safety.”
This is the reality for residents of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), who face continued threats of police violence, ineffective police investigations into Missing and Murdered Indigenous, Women, Girls & Two Spirit relatives, and the campaign of terror against Hastings Tent City residents.
Details of the August 22, 2022 police shooting
On the morning of Monday, August 22, between 7-9 AM, an Indigenous man sought urgent care on the 300-block of East Hastings. He had been bear maced shortly beforehand. Based on multiple firsthand accounts he was unarmed and defenceless, in obvious distress, and was actively seeking medical attention.
Numerous eyewitnesses say he was trying to get milk – a common treatment for bear mace – to alleviate the momentary blindness and intense pain he was in. It was clear to anyone watching that his behaviour was neither aggressive or unreasonable, simply a person trying to deal with the severity of bear mace. Folks in the neighbourhood are experienced with medical emergencies such as this one and have been clear that this is all it was: a medical emergency.
When police arrived onsite, multiple community members, including nearby shelter staff and residents of the block, repeatedly provided context on the situation and told officers that it was unnecessary to approach him with force. The VPD prohibited community members from providing assistance to him. Instead, within seconds of arriving on scene, they shot him six times from a beanbag shotgun directly into his back. Not a single person reported hearing police adequately announce themselves or deliver any warnings before initiating this execution.
As his body fell, the police cuffed his dead body. Multiple accounts state that at least one officer called for naloxone but when it was offered, it was simply handed back. Presumably the officer was completely aware that this man had not been overdosing.
The Police chose to respond with immediate and unwarranted violence. There were no attempts to de-escalate or triage his medical needs – instead within seconds of arriving on scene the police executed yet another defenceless member of the DTES. Time and time again the police act as a local militia coming into the DTES seeking out the blood of our friends and family. Our community is vilified by the media, city, and police constantly all the while we are just trying to survive each day. Enough is enough.
Community testimony and evidence
Statement #1 – Cody, Hastings Street Resident
I was woken up by a large gentleman, ancestry Native descent. Seemed like he was in his mid- to late-30s, maybe early 40s. And he was screaming for help. Obviously, he was bear maced: he couldn’t see anything. At that point, he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He was covered in water, obviously a first attempt to try to get it off, which is terrible. It spreads it everywhere. And he’s already received one gallon of milk from somebody […] obviously you don’t have any money so somebody helps him out with that and I believe he went back in to the store and borrowed another gallon of milk, from the sounds of the crisis, I would have done the same thing. And he came and sat down next to us. That was about the only moment of clarity he had. He told us that someone sprayed him by mistake down on Columbia, quite a ways to walk up from there. And at that point, he got back up. He was, he was agitated, you could tell he was agitated but he was not stepping on anyone’s things. He said “Excuse me, I can’t see, I’m sorry.” He explained he was bear maced, needed help, “please someone help me?” At that point, he asked for 911. And I was about to call 911, the non-emergency line, but at that point VPD came flying up about 6 or 7 cars. They all got out with tactical weapons drawn, screaming at him to get down, get down. He was yelling back “I can’t I’ve been bear maced. Please help me!” at which point they fired three rounds. A shotgun fire to his chest two to the stomach. He turned around to defend himself because you didn’t know he was hit by I’m sure at that point they shot another five or six rounds into his back until they dropped to the ground. And then they all rushed up to him on concrete, naked body on concrete, three grown men jumped on his back with knees. His face was bloodied. You could see abrasions to his abdomen and with their rolling over and his penis areas is a rough rough takedown for somebody who was already taken down.
Statement #2 – Jacob, Community Worker
At 7:57, I was in the Ing Suey Sun Tong Association corner store. A man comes in naked and asks for milk. The shopkeep denies him. He walks down to LAXMI for milk, I’m behind him, shouting stop I’ll get you baby shampoo. I phone shelter staff on shift, and tell them to run across the street with baby shampoo. I hang up as the man goes into Laxmi, grabs a jug of milk, pours some on himself inside, and then gets chased out with a bat. The other staff comes across the street with baby shampoo. Before we can engage with the man, 3-4 cop cars come out with bean bags shotguns raised and levelled at him. The guy starts walking away, fully nude, only a jug of milk in his hands. The cops shout ‘lay down or you’re gonna get shot’, and about 15 seconds later open fire. 2 shots slow, 4 shots fast. All in his back. He goes down, three or four officers parked on the east side of the block follow down towards him, and the two or three officers on the west side move in and cuff him. They form a horseshoe around him so no one can see him. At that point, he’s cuffed and on the ground.
He was not overdosing. I will say definitively he was killed by beanbags to the back. I could taste bear spray in the air, that’s why he was acting that way. If the police had not responded, shelter staff would have had the situation contained within 20 minutes, easily. There were 3 of us on site, ready to deal with it, like we have hundreds of times, like we did twice last night.
Statement #3 – Jessica, Hastings Street Resident
I seen a man in distress, running. Crying, basically yelping, like he was in need of help. He had milk spilled from head to toe. And it was nothing more, like maybe he was naked, but he just got sprayed with bear mace which is severe pepper- it clogs your breathing way. It’s very shocking. Like when you get bear maced image to the eyes, you’re blinded. So he didn’t know what to do. He was running around like a bunny…Yeah, he sat right here in my chair. Right there. Just sat there. Yeah. And then like I was just like- he was so in shock. So it’s kind of like, I’m just like trying to say “calm down,” like just calm down. He was just really like, you know, when someone is just in shock. Yeah, just in shock is staggering. Like he’s running cause he’s hot. Okay, yeah, it’s hot. And he was naked too. So he was really quiet actually. There wasn’t much people out actually. But I know. I know for a fact as soon as the cops came up, it got hostile. Really fast.
Statement #4 – Nick, DTES Community Member
He was bear sprayed, naked and screaming for help and ran up into one of the stores, ran into the store naked. Obviously, the owner of the store was yelling at him to get out, pushed him out of the store and he ran to the next door, grabbed a bottle of milk, started pouring out over his head. Because he’d been bear sprayed, he started going down the street, the police came from behind, got out of their vehicles, tried to approach him and the entire street over here yelled at him. I yelled at the police officers that he had been bear sprayed. The man put his hands up as directed by the police, even though he was bear sprayed and scared to crap, like scared. You know what I mean? And about eight cops came from behind him with his hands up and shot him with beanbags. I guess. You have to remember this guy was naked with his hands up, not a stitch of clothing. No. And we were all screaming at the police that he was bear sprayed. And the man was scared crapless and immediately fell to the ground after being shot. And now I guess has died from his injuries. But there was absolutely no need to shoot him, in my opinion. And everyone else in the street is disgusted by what happened. Anyway, that’s yeah, that’s basically what happened. Absolutely.
Statement #5 – Cody, DTES Community Member
He wasn’t doing anything. He was asking for help. And that’s what the police did for him: shot him 16, 17 times with the beanbag gun that I could see, and then handcuffed him. Beat him up, at that time he wasn’t breathing. Finally, when they got him with Narcan, trying to act like it was a drug overdose and clearly it wasn’t a drug overdose. The guy wasn’t on drugs, he was, on fuckin beaten up, right? He would have made it, if they just would have helped him. Can’t die from bear mace. You can die from 16 rounds of a beanbag gun and pretty sure we heard live fire too.
On August 22, around 10 AM, two investigators from the Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) arrived onsite. Neither investigator asked any VPD officers to leave the site, instead they spoke extensively with VPD officers, raising concerns about a one-sided story that favours the VPD narrative. If the police are being subject to a criminal investigation why did the IIO fail to remove VPD from the scene?
In the hours following the VPD’s latest murder, an extensive police line was taped off. The line enclosed multiple people sheltering on Hastings, who were not able to leave their home – to access food, hygiene facilities, or ceremony. Two Indigenous Community Leaders were initially denied space to conduct ceremony so they held space outside the police line, and the wind carried their medicines down the block. Eventually, the police allowed the Community Leaders and a friend of the victim access to the block, and they carried medicines down to the tent where he lay.
There were multiple VPD officers within the police line really making their presence known to people sheltering on the street – including multiple eyewitnesses. Neither the IIO nor the VPD was concerned with the potential for police retaliation or further trauma in the time that followed the murder. Lack of concern for the risks to vulnerable witnesses of police violence have previously been identified to the IIO and VPD, yet no concrete measures to prevent retribution or intimidation have been enacted.
Responding to the 5th Police Murder in the DTES in 2022
This is the fifth VPD murder this year and the second police murder to take place in the DTES in 2022. Across BC, the rates of police-involved incidents of serious harm and death have risen. The murder on August 22 bears a stark resemblance to the police murder of Chester on January 5, 2021. Just like the man killed yesterday morning, Chester was also unclothed and in distress. Rather than offer any crisis response or de-escalation, the VPD relied on its tool of choice – ammunition.
We know that the VPD kills with impunity – and we know these killings disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples. Each of our organisations has called for every level of government to defund the police. Defunding, disarming, and dismantling police could instead funnel resources to community-based crisis responses that are proven to save lives without using coercion, control, and the use of deadly force.
In recent months the VPD has chosen to deflect from the crisis of police murder, violence, and aggression by manufacturing threats of “stranger assaults.” This narrative, however, has been debunked. As SFU Professor Martin Andresen noted in a recent interview: “the risk of victimization for the average citizen in Vancouver, I don’t think it has changed very much [in 25 years]…We don’t need more cops. We need more social services, more housing, more addiction services, mental health services.”
The VPD must be stopped from using the public purse to carry out extra-judicial killings in the name of public safety. Every public policy branch of municipal, provincial, and federal governments must denounce the continued executions of Indigenous people at the hands of police.
We call for the following actions:
- The IIO is not acting independently from police and has consistently failed to demonstrate any investment in ending police killings. A parallel organization must be created and funded, with the specific mandate to support families, communities, and survivors in the aftermath of police killings and/or incidents of serious harm. This new organization must be mandated to deploy Indigenous and non-Indigenous civilian monitors in every instance of police murder.
- The IIO lacks transparency and has repeatedly shown that it acts as a gatekeeper, preventing access to crucial information while protecting police from being held accountable. The Chief Civilian Director can no longer be the sole arbiter of justice: every incident of police murder and serious harm must be referred to Crown Counsel for possible charges.
- The VPD, IIO, and City of Vancouver must develop safety protocols to protect witnesses, and deal considerately and respectfully with the blood, human remains, and desecrated land they so often leave behind. In this instance, the VPD, IIO, and BC Coroners Service removed the body from the site, packed up their materials, and left blood and other materials on the street. A “cleanup” was completed by a representative of Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, who sprayed the murder site with a fire extinguisher and then left the scene.
We demand a ceasefire on the Downtown Eastside.
We call on every level of government to condemn this violent killing of yet another innocent person. Every government official must denounce the genocidal killings of Indigenous people at the hands of police. We also refuse to treat the killing as a singular incident – every police officer brings the potential for state-sponsored killing into the neighbourhood. We must defund, disarm and dismantle the VPD for the safety and empowerment of the DTES community.
BCAPOM (British Columbia Association of People on Opiate Maintenance)
BC Civil Liberties Association
Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War
Defund 604 Network
Justice for Jared
Our Homes Can’t Wait Coalition
Pivot Legal Society
VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users)
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