Dozens gathered in East Calgary on Feb. 19 to remember Latjor Tuel, shot and killed by Calgary police during an altercation one year ago.
Family, friends and the community joined together at the location where Tuel died – near 44 Street and 17 Avenue SE, before protesting police use of force in front of City hall Sunday afternoon.
They shared stories of the man they loved and the impact he had on Calgary’s South Sudanese people. The also demanded accountability for the officers that shot Tuel.
Tuel’s daughter, Nyalinglat Latjor, said many loved her father for what he brought to their lives.
“He was a messenger, a valued member of our community, a valued member of our family,” she told the crowd.
“He came here almost 22 years ago seeking a better life.”
The group was also there to keep police use of force in the public eye. In the past two weeks, there have been three shootings by police, one of them fatal. Two of the shootings were Calgary Police Service and another, by RCMP, was outside Calgary but involved a Calgary woman.
“Police brutality continues to go on unchecked,” Latjor said.
“My father was a victim of it.”
This week, at the Alberta Sheriffs event, Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said these situations are always very difficult. He said, however, there are hundreds of thousands of interactions where nothing happens.
“At the end of the day, (use of force) represent, thankfully, a very small fraction of interactions between police and the public,” Chief Neufeld said.
Mother comes to Canada looking for answers
Latjor Tuel’s mother Rebecca Aker Akol came to Calgary from South Sudan for the event Sunday. She broke down in front of a memorial to Tuel erected on a light pole along 17 Avenue SE just prior to the event start. She said a prayer at the location before speaking through her granddaughter’s translation.
“I came all this way because I have to know why he was killed,” Tuel’s mother said via translation.
“I came from a long, long distance, far away. I came to ask the police, ‘What did he do? Why did he deserve to die? Please tell me so my heart can heal.”
Tuel’s younger brother and sister also attended the memorial.
His younger sister, Themar Tuel, remembers Latjor stepping up when their father died, to take care of the family. She said he taught them so much and protected the family. Themar recalls him collecting firewood with his mother and then having to cook for them.
She told a story about how Tuel collected his baby brother in a basket during the civil war and swam him across the river to safety.
“I cannot imagine my brother gone today,” she said.
“I have a heart broke. And I’m not going to forget it.”
Themar said he was going through so much at the time when he was shot. He was struggling. He was trying to escape the pain of being a child soldier.
“He suffered. He’s seen horrible, horrible things. But that shouldn’t have been a reason why he was shot down right here and left right here. Six, seven hours how long?” she said.
“Where was the dignity? Where’s the care? Where’s the humanity, the empathy for him as a fellow human.”
Tuel’s daughter said they’ve heard little from the CPS nor ASIRT since their father’s death. They fear that there’s only one outcome expected when police investigate police.
South Sudanese community comes out to support family, demand justice
David Top, a member of Calgary’s South Sudanese community and friend of Tuel, said Tuel was a liberator back in his home country. He fought against the brutality of successive Islamic regimes.
“The South Sudanese community and the African community as a whole standby in the family seeking justice for that you’re seeking justice for his mother, his daughter, his sister, his brother and the old family and your community,” he said.
He said they’re not against the entire Calgary police.
“We are against those few individuals that took matters into their own hands to kill the good citizen that was suffering from mental health. He was looking for support,” he said.
They’re asking people to let the province, the City and the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT, investigating body) to release their report on the death soon.
Khol Top, president of the South Sudanese community in Calgary, spoke to the more than 70 people gathered at city hall for the protest portion of Tuel’s memorial.
He told the crowd that the police were supposed to be here for the safety of all.
“The police did not protect Latjor,” he said.
“Latjor didn’t need a bullet, Latjor needed help, mental health support. Emotionally, we don’t need a bullet, we need to be embraced by the community, but all of us, by family. We don’t need a bullet.”
Just prior to Tuel’s death, the Calgary police co-located 211 resources with the 911 operators to help address calls involving mental health needs.
They’ve also added in a call diversion program that would see non-emergency mental health calls transferred to an agency better suited to respond. Money for that came from the Community Safety Investment Framework, partly funded through reallocation of Calgary police funds.