Friday, July 29, 2016

Sammy Yatim and the Day of Justice

It's been three years and one day since 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot to death on a Toronto streetcar by police officer James Forcillo.

But yesterday his killer was finally sentenced.

A Toronto police officer who gunned down a troubled teen on an empty streetcar three years ago abused his authority in a way that undermines public trust in law enforcement and the justice system, a judge said Thursday in sentencing him to six years in prison.

And I couldn't be happier, because this was murder.

A grotesque act of unnecessary violence, made even more disgusting by the sight of  another officer tasering the teenager's bullet riddled body.

And one can only hope it will serve as a lesson for other police officers.

In letting loose a second volley of shots on 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, Const. James Forcillo committed an “egregious breach of trust” and his sentence must serve as notice to other police officers that they should open fire “only as a last resort,” Justice Edward Then told a Toronto court.

For there couldn't be a more tragic example of policing gone horribly wrong.  

Barely a minute after his arrival, Officer Forcillo fired three shots. Mr. Yatim, who was still inside the streetcar, fell on his back. Six seconds passed. No one said a word. Then Officer Forcillo fired six more shots into the teenager’s prone body.

What on earth were those police officers thinking? Why were they so threatened by a slight teenager, holding a tiny knife like a candle, on an empty streetcar?

What insane clown posse or firing squad was that one?

There was absolutely no reason for Forcillo to open fire so quickly. Sammy Yatim hadn't hurt anybody on the streetcar. He had no hostages. He was no threat to the many police officers on the street outside. He had asked the driver for a cellphone to call his father. If the police had taken the time to find that out, and provided him with one, he might have surrendered peacefully.

This is how that incident should have been handled.

What was required that night was someone willing to try to calm a troubled, mentally disturbed teenager and talk him out of making a fatal mistake. Instead of backing up, slowing things down and trying to find a non-lethal way to deal with the situation, the officer issued comply-or-die orders.

The way it was handled was homicidal rather than professional. Any police officer who doesn't understand that is unfit to wear a badge, or carry a gun.

And what is also clear is that although police departments are making an effort to teach officers how to deal with emotionally upset or mentally ill Canadians, and most of the time it works. 

There are about one million interactions between the police and the mentally ill every year in Canada, and most of them end without incident...

Far too many of those most vulnerable Canadians who are only guilty of being ill, confused, and frightened, are being shot and killed. 

So that needs to stop, and much more needs to be done.

But of course it all comes too late for Sammy Yatim, the troubled teenager who managed to escape the horror of Aleppo, the Syrian city of the dead...

Only to be shot to death on a streetcar in Toronto, for no good reason...

I'll be haunted by that incident for the rest of my life, for I arrived on the scene not long after the shooting, and saw his body lying there with police officers frantically trying to revive him.

And this is the bottom line:

Our police need to stop being so aggressive, and learn when to back off and talk, instead of shooting. For this is Canada not America. And talk is cheap but lives are not.

For failing to remember that, and for failing to show the slightest sign of remorse, James Forcillo deserves every day of his six-year sentence...

And more.

And poor Sammy Yatim, who did not deserve what happened to him, got some justice at last...

Three years and one day after his life ended so brutally.

Let it be a tragic lesson.

Let it never happen again...

Please click here to recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.


  1. Any cop boss who believes that "training" will help shit-head, trigger-happy cops from acts of unnecessary violence is likewise a shit-head.

    6 years in jail for one of those monsters is more effective than 6 years of "training."

    1. Training is a vital piece but yes no amount of training will stop a Forcillo

      Brass knew he was gun happy long before that night, they let him out on the street anyway

    2. hi thwap and Kev...yes, I didn't have time to get into that in my post. Training is important, but people like Forcillo should never be police officers. There is an active discussion going on about whether the criteria for admission to police college should be revised, and it is really important. For not only do we need to hire officers who are not trigger happy psychopaths or racists or homophobes etc. We need to emphasize qualities like caring and empathy. Needless to say if those qualities were in force Forcillo would never have been hired...

  2. Anonymous2:24 PM

    Just another Cocky Cop. While policing is necessary I would put 80% of all Cops in the same boat. I would NEVER trust a cop. NEVER volunteer information to a Cop except "please ask my lawyer". Especially since they came knocking at my door protecting GREEDY HOG RBC with my tax dollars!!!!!! Worked in criminal law for 20 years, in defence law, and there are many, many lying Crooked Cops in the GTA. Love the BC ruling against the morally depleted RCMP!!!!!!!!! Most Cops are trained to be too ignorant to see the big picture. FS

    1. hi FS...there are some good police officers, I know because I have worked with them. But you're right, there is a tendency in police culture to see the world as US versus THEM, and that has to change. They need to understand that they are US, and behave accordingly...

  3. Anonymous3:36 PM

    He made bail today pending appeal of his sentence today. Hopefully, his appeal will fail, otherwise there will be no justice for this criminal act.

    In Ottawa a few days ago, an immigrant Somalian man with mental issues was apparently beaten to death by 2 police officers. Eye witnesses said that they thought the beating was excessive. None reported that he was actively resisting arrest.

    A spokesman for the Police Union, however, immediately said that it was not an act of racism and that the officers had followed proper procedures, and further pointed out that an investigation had been started.

    Here is the point: if the investigation has just been started, surely it would have been inappropriate for the spokesman to claim that it was not a racist beating and that the officers had followed proper procedures. Clearly, he/she should have just pointed out that the public should await the results of the investigation, which was just what the family of the victim had publicly stated.

    Can the public be blamed for being cynical that the system may be rigged against them given what we are witnessing happening in the U.S.?

    1. hi anon...yes, I'm aware of that death in Ottawa, and it's a good example of what I was saying in this post. Witnesses have said the incident escalated very quickly, from what I have read the victim was not threatening anyone, and in my opinion there was absolutely no reason to beat him, let alone kill him. Groping someone in a Starbucks is against the law, but it is a minor offence, and the police clearly overreacted. I will be following this case closely...

  4. e.a.f.3:49 PM

    finally a Judge who gets it. the sentence was appropriate and sends a very clear message to all police officers. You can not go around shooting people at will. there will be repercussions. We can only hope the appeals will not work and forcillo does his time.

    If a police officer actually felt so threatened by a skinny kid with a knife, they ought not to be a cop. Yatim was not a danger to anyone as long as he stayed on that bus. No one ever heard of a 2 x 4 to deal with people holding knives? used to work all the time.

    1. hi e.a.f...yes, I thought the sentence was appropriate, and hopefully it sends the message that police officers are not above the law. The killing of Sammy Yatim was totally unnecessary, the police should have backed off, and started negotiating Sammy's surrender. As I have mentioned before, I was once involved in a hostage incident, when a PTSD sufferer I was trying to help became psychotic, and pinned me into the corner of a small room with a knife. The Emergency Task Force was called in, they had a skilled negotiator, a psychiatrist, and a psychiatric nurse with them. They negotiated patiently for hours, and nobody was hurt. If the ETF had been called in that night, Sammy Yatim would still be alive...

    2. Happened today A direct result of Sammy's murder Man with knife on TTC bus apprehended after 5 hours of negotiation - Toronto - CBC News

  5. Hi Simon I do like the sentence It seems reasonable but I fear the novel way in which he was charged ( separating it into two events) is vulnerable to appeal, which is likely why Forcillo was released on bail Fingers crossed

    1. hi Kev...yes, I am a bit worried by the way that Forcillo seems to get every break possible, and one must wonder when he will finally start his prison sentence. As I said in my post, I think he was lucky not to be charged with first degree murder, for I don't understand how he could claim he was afraid for his life. So he should just shut up, and do his time. When you see the way he rushes up to the streetcar, and starts shooting so quickly, no sane person could conclude that it was not murder....

    2. I point out often that on the outside of streetcars there is a switch to close the doors Why wasn't this used He was contained and only a threat to himself

    3. hi Kev...that is a good point, they could easily have closed the door, and waited for a proper negotiator to arrive. There really was no excuse for what Forcillo did, and all the police officers on the scene that night must share some measure of blame...

  6. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Don't have the exact source for this quote (it was on DailyKos) American police officer (retired) apparently said that 15% of police officers will always exceed what they're allowed to do, 15% will never exceed what they're allowed to do, and 70% will go either way depending upon who they are with.

    1. hi anon...all the more reason for police to be more choosy about who they accept into police college, and then hammer into the heads of those they accept, that they are there to served protect, not kill the innocent. I recognize that being a police officer is a hard job, it's easy to become dehumanized, but if we are going to have a truly Canadian force our standards must be raised not lowered....