Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Gentleman' didn't deserve to die

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The mother of 17-year-old Michael Langan is not happy with the way the Winnipeg Police Service and the media have portrayed the youngest Canadian to die after being Tasered by police.

According to police, the electronic stun gun was used on Langan because he was a suspect in a car break-in and he refused to drop a knife he was allegedly holding.

Apparently the mother's criticism of the way the media has portrayed her son extends to my own treatment of the subject in a July 31 column headlined He had a good heart, a tough life.

Never mind that much of my sympathetic account of Michael's life came from his mother, Sharon Shymko, and from his boyhood pal and cousin Robert Bishop, who is now 16.

According to Robert, Sharon was upset at him for being candid. Or so he said when he called me later.

I suspect Sharon didn't appreciate Robert saying that other kids shunned Michael and thought he was a bad influence on his younger cousin when they were little boys in Kelowna, B.C.

Or that he and Michael grew up largely unsupervised.

"We had each other," Robert told me the night before Michael's funeral.

Robert also said this: "If you seen him and didn't know what he'd been through, you'd think he was just another bum. Scum. Whatever. But if you took a second to talk to him..."

Obviously, Robert just tells it the way he sees it.

But given that Michael's mother was upset at him, Robert wanted another chance to elaborate on who Michael was and what he'd been through.

This time in writing.

Michael Langan did not deserve to die. He loved his family, his friends and his life.

Even when his family, his friends and his life could not return the favour, Mike was there with his big smile and genuine laugh.

If any of the reporters, police officers or even any average Joe could have filled the shoes of one of his friends, they would know. They would see Mike for the person he was, not the person they think he was. He was a kid with a big heart and a kind soul.

Once, when we were younger, Michael asked me if I wanted to eat over. I told him I would if it was OK. So Michael went to ask his mom, but Sharon (Michael's mother) said that they only made so much.

After breaking the news to me, Michael said I could come over afterwards and we could play. I said that would be fine and that he could call me when he was done. Mike finished dinner and phoned me, inviting me over.

When I got there, we went to the living room where Michael reached into the couch and pulled out a pork chop wrapped up in plastic.

He said: "I invited you for dinner, so you're gonna eat. Just don't tell my mom."

That's the kind of Mike I knew.

Mike had friends in Kelowna and he was lonely in Winnipeg. He moved back to B.C. a short while before he came back to Winnipeg.

It was during that time that Michael was beaten by a family friend. He was a smart kid who carried a pocket knife because he had no protection.

I know my cousin would never try to attack two, three or however many cops there were, in midday with a pocket knife. He was smarter than that.

Don't be so quick to judge.

Mike is the underdog in this incident and he's been misunderstood his whole life. But if you could just try to understand him, you would see that the police killed a kid in that back alley. Not a criminal or a bum, but a kid who used to bus to school and kiss his mom on the cheek. This hasn't been easy on his mother and the media twisting things around doesn't help.

They say Mike stole something from the car, but yet they won't even tell Mike's mother what it was. Even if it was valuable property, it was not worth the life of such a fine gentleman.

No matter who Michael Brian Langan was, one thing is undeniable about what Robert wrote.

He didn't deserve to die.

Nor did police intend to kill him, otherwise they would have used their Glock pistols. Yet during the last five years, 22 people have died in Canada after being Tasered by police.

You'll be happy to learn, then, that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is in the process of reviewing stun gun safety.

Although you may take less comfort in learning who one of the $25,000 platinum sponsors of the chiefs' upcoming annual conference is.

It's Taser International.

Can it get any more transparent?

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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