On Friday night, an 18 year old named Sammy Yatim wielding a knife on an empty streetcar was gunned down by Toronto Police Const. James Forcillo. He was shot 9 times, 6 of which fired after he’d fallen to the ground which were followed by a jolt from a taser. If you live in the city you’ve no doubt seen the various camera phone & security camera videos like the one above that have been making their way around the interweebz.
As someone who has been tear-gassed, shot at with rubber bullets and charged at with Police horses for exercising my right to freedom of assembly – I can’t understand why any of the “non-lethal” control techniques the Police have at their disposal couldn’t have and wouldn’t have been used to subdue a 110 pound teenager with a knife. To take that point further, I can’t understand why they couldn’t close the streetcar doors and wait for a negotiator to arrive. These are the same questions everyone is asking and they are questions that need to be answered – I doubt they’ll be adiquately answered by an SIU investigation.
I have no doubt that the Police used the taser after they shot Sammy so that they could say, after the fact, that they tased him before shooting him but they forgot that people have cameras on their phones now and everything they do can and will be recorded. But I digress…
Somehow people are drawing parallels between this and the Trayvon Martin case which aside from the fact that a teenager was shot and the man who shot him will likely walk free, I don’t see the comparison. Trayvon was coming home from the store with some Skittles when Zimmerman approached him and begun a confrontation before shooting the teenager, all after being told not to engage Martin by the Police. The fact that Zimmerman walked exposes both inherent flaws and, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, institutionalized racism within US Society and the US Legal System… But that’s another story for another time.
I’m reminded much more of the 2000 beating death of Otto Vass at the hands of Toronto Police – not that the circumstances are similar, but here is where my parallel is drawn; Police officers have difficult jobs where snap judgements have to be made, I can appreciate that. They are often put in situations where emotional impulses would be difficult to control but that is also a part of the job, self-control.
If I chased someone for half an hour and caught them, I’d want to beat the shit out of them but that’s why I’m not a Police officer… Well, that combined with the fact that I’m probably too slow to catch them and would be too tired to beat them if I did. If you catch someone you’ve been chasing, your job as an enforcer of the law is to let the law deal with their alleged crime. Your job is to control your emotional impulses so in the case of Otto Vass, it was told (by the Police) that Otto had reached for the officer’s gun during the struggle so let’s assume for a moment that this is true – your job is to subdue the man, put him in cuffs and take him to jail. What happened instead was quite a bit different; two officers beat the shit out of him in the parking lot and when another car with two more officers showed up and proceeded to continue to beat Otto until he was dead – not one of the four officers who beat him to death was charged for their crime.
What happened next was a concerted effort on the part of the Police to discredit Vass and paint him in a bad light – stories of violence and insurance fraud made their way into every story about the beating. So, maybe Otto wasn’t a nice guy, I don’t know, I didn’t know him… But the punishment in our society for not being a nice guy isn’t death and Police officers do not have the right to execute citizens… and yet, they do.
There is no doubt that young Sammy was going through something that night (mental illness, drugs, alcohol, who knows?) and made some choices that ultimately cost him his life but I think the point that everyone is making is that the cost may well have been his freedom, but never should have been his life.
RIP – ACAB.