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 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...
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