Way back in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was briefly fashionable on the extreme reaches of the far left to proclaim that the victims who died when the Twin Towers fell had it coming. They were titans of finance, after all, who capitalized on every form of human misery and turned a tidy profit doing so.
Journalist Doug Henwood, himself an unabashed socialist, emphatically rejected this line of reasoning. “(T)he victims, American and otherwise, included janitors and secretaries along with bond brokers. But even bond brokers don’t deserve to die like that. No one does.”
I was reminded of this episode in the wake of Darryl Sheepway’s second-degree murder conviction for the killing of Christopher Brisson, who sold Sheepway crack, in 2015. There’s been some murmuring online that, actually, Brisson’s death is good, because of what he did for a living. Glibly put, Brisson sold crack. Now, he does not.
One punter even suggested that Canada should follow autocratic lead of Phillipine president Rodrigo Duterte, who used to muse openly about slaughtering his country’s drug dealers and users. He gave his country’s police forces wide leeway to do so: at least 3,900 “drug personalities” died at the hands of police before the Duterte dialled back the program’s intensity, The Guardian reports. (Duterte was reportedly tired of criticism from “bleeding hearts” who, for some reason, have a problem with cops killing thousands of people without even the pretence of due process.)
Apparently some people need to be reminded that yes, shooting someone in the back with a shotgun — even if the victim is a crack dealer — is a crime that should be punished.
The facts of Brisson’s murder are not in dispute. During trial, court heard that Sheepway’s life had spun out of control thanks to his addiction to crack.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Sheepway, desperate to score more crack, set up a meeting with Brisson. After Brisson fronted him some crack, Sheepway decided he wanted more and set up a second meeting, where he planned to rob Brisson.
When Sheepway pulled the gun on Brisson, it went off at least once, court heard, by accident. As Brisson sped away in his truck, Sheepway fired again. The slug tore through the headrest in Brisson’s truck and struck Brisson just below the left shoulder. Sheepway testified that Brisson’s truck disappeared from view, but that he found it nearby, crashed into the bush. He found Brisson lying dead a few metres away.
Sheepway’s lawyers did not even attempt to argue his client did not kill Brisson, and simply tried to get Sheepway’s conviction knocked down to the lesser charge of manslaughter. In January, a judge convicted Sheepway of second-degree murder.
After the killing, Sheepway tried to stay clean but failed, and ended up committing a handful of robberies and frauds to feed his addiction. Eight months later, nearing rock bottom, Sheepway planned to die by suicide. He called his estranged wife to say goodbye. She phoned police, who arrested him. During trial, Sheepway testified that he continues to have cravings for crack cocaine to this day.
In a way, Brisson and Sheepway are one another’s victims. Sheepway was in thrall to crack cocaine and Brisson fed that need for profit, and in the end, was murdered by that need. Sheepway will now grow old in a prison cell.
Exactly what kind of prison cell remains to be seen. Sheepway is to be sentenced this month, and faces a minimum of 10 years in prison without chance of parole. In the meantime, his lawyer is arguing that Sheepway’s charter rights are being violated because he is being held in near-solitary conditions. That has led other geniuses to suggest he should be put into the general jail population so he can be shanked.
Just as society has a moral interest in preventing, to the extent possible, people shooting one another with shotguns, so too do we have an interest in not allowing prisoners to stab one another at will. Is this something that grown men — it’s almost always men writing these macho comments — need explained to them?
It’s true both Sheepway and Brisson made poor choices. Both have paid dearly for them. So have their families. There are no winners here.
We know now that drug addiction is caused by a complex web of social, economic and personal factors. Likewise, the caricature of the lurking drug pusher who ensnares otherwise straitlaced victims, is an overblown myth. Demand creates supply.
In the meantime, what would be far more productive is for the Yukon to have a serious discussion about the extent of this territory’s cocaine problem and the violence and misery it inflicts. These are complex problems with deep-seated causes.
Only a sustained combination of law enforcement, education and public health work will reduce the severity of the Yukon’s drug problem. Name-calling and violent revenge fantasies sure won’t, and neither will jury-rigged shivs or shotgun slugs to the back.
Neither addicts nor crack dealers deserve to die like that. No one does.
Contact Chris Windeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org