Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sammy Yatim and the Fatal Legacy of Stephen Harper

When I went by Dundas Square this evening after work, a march had already departed heading for the place where Sammy Yatim was killed. 

All that was left was a chalk memorial that the rain will soon wash away.

But I will not easily forget what happened to that troubled teenager. Not only because it strikes at the very heart of the kind of country I want to live in.

But also because I know what it's like to be confronted by a disturbed man with a knife. I know that patience saves lives.

And what bothers me most of all is that none was shown to Sammy....

Because when I watch that horrifying video, I ask myself the same questions so many people in this city, and all over the country, are asking:

Why would police open fire on an obviously disturbed young man, when he was alone on a streetcar, not going anywhere, and was not an immediate threat to ANYONE?

Why did they fire NINE shots, and then taser him for good measure?

But the question that haunts me the most is what was the fatal RUSH? Why did they start shooting even as other police cars were converging on the scene? Why was the incident over in a matter of MINUTES?

When the incident I was involved in took hours to resolve, but everyone came out ALIVE.
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It happened just over a year ago. I was trying to talk down a friend, who suffers from post traumatic stress depression, was in a psychotic state and causing a ruckus in his downtown high rise. I was trying to convince him to go to a hospital and get treatment.

When I stupidly tried to discreetly move a small knife on a kitchen counter further away from him. He saw what I had done, misinterpreted the move, grabbed the knife and held it in front of him about three feet away from my chest.

I was pinned in a corner of the small kitchen. I could have tried to disarm him since I studied martial arts for years. But although I was paralyzed with shock, and I could feel my legs turning to rubber, I wasn't really scared because I could see he didn't really want to hurt me, he was just frightened.

So I just kept speaking to him softly trying to get him to trust me. I can't remember much of what I said that day. My mind has blanked much of it out.

I do remember rambling on about how I literally couldn't hurt a fly. Because even the tiniest winged creature that flies into my place and lands on my computer when I'm writing at night, I try to gently capture and release outside, like my mother taught me to do when I was a boy. Which fortunately he found funny.

But it didn't really matter because talk is cheap, and always better than violence. And I had almost convinced him to put down the knife and accompany me to a hospital.

When suddenly four or five members of the Emergency Task Force burst into the apartment having being called by one of the neighbours who had witnessed what had happened.

And when he saw them in their scary looking uniforms, my friend flew across the room, and climbed onto a window ledge, twenty stories above a busy street.

I begged the ETF commander not to shoot him, or taser him. I told him he hadn't really threatened me, and he was completely harmless, just very frightened.

But I needn't have worried. For the ETF team was incredibly professional. They had a police psychiatrist, a pychiatric nurse, and a trained negotiator with them. They put away their guns, and talked to him for HOURS. One of the police officers even walked his dog. Until he finally stepped down from the ledge and one of them was able to grab him.

He was treated extremely gently, taken away to hospital, where I'm happy to say he soon recovered, and has made a lot of progress since then.

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But now when I look at the senseless shooting of Sammy Yatim, I wonder how much progress we really are making. 

Studies conducted by criminologists have indicated that roughly one-third of police shootings in Canada that resulted in death or injury involved people either diagnosed or suspected of mental illness

Coroner’s inquests have been held, over and over, at least 10 probes of fatal shootings by police in Toronto over the past two decades: Lester Donaldson, Edmund Yu, Wayne Williams, Reyal Jardine-Douglas, Sylvia Klibingaitis, Michael Eligon, Byron Debassige, Otto Vass — the names of the dead go on and on, purported menaces to the public and police, whether wielding a paring knife or a pair of scissors but really armed with little more beyond the paranoia in their head and irrational behaviour exhibited.

And what worries me the most is what kind of society we are becoming. Because let's be clear eh?

Sammy Yatim was executed by police firing squad because nobody was trained, or had time enough for patient negotiation.

But would rather shoot first, and ask questions later.

In a country that was once famous for its negotiating skills, and was born out of our genius for peaceful compromise. In a country that once produced the world's best peacemakers.

But where now some of those charged with protecting us apparently lack the training and the inclination to negotiate, even when those skills, and that attitude, could save the lives of many of our own innocent and most vulnerable citizens.

And beyond the obvious criminally incompetent failures of the police, I also blame the brutalization of this country on the fatal legacy of Stephen Harper...

Whose demagogic Great War on Crime has always pandered to the lowest instincts of the Con mob, always gone after young Canadians, and is now targeting even the mentally ill with his shameful Bill C-54.

Understanding mental illness is complicated and, for victims such as myself, there is a strong need to hold someone accountable for the murder of their loved ones. The “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach, however, has a vengeful nature and points the finger in the wrong direction. It does not reflect any attempt to understand the complexity of mental illness. Until the government directs its efforts at improving the mental health system, rather than creating a bill like C-54 which will not protect Canadians, we are no better off.

The belligerent political thug who is doing all he can to destroy our great tradition as negotiators and peacemakers, by rewriting our history to make it seem more warlike.

“Canadian history has been conscripted,” declared Queen’s University history professor Ian McKay in a widely noted 2011 lecture, provocatively titled, “The Empire Fights Back: Militarism, Imperial Nostalgia, and the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada.”

Harper’s top election strategists, including the late Sen. Doug Finley, have framed patriotism, especially linked to Canada’s military heritage, as a key element in the Conservative brand.

The brutish alien ideologue who would turn our Canada into the kind of insanely aggressive police state, where it's OK to shoot first, and ask questions later...

A violent gun crazy place like Ugly America. A place where our gentler, kinder, SMARTER Canadian values don't stand a chance.

Even though most Canadians totally reject Harper's deranged vision of Canada.

A poll early this year conducted for the Institute for Research of Public policy found that just 28.6 per cent of Canadians supported celebrating the War of 1812 anniversary, far below the 47.1 per cent who would have favoured a celebration of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Yup. The police need to explain the barbarous execution of Sammy Yatim. The guilty need to be punished. We need to learn from this tragedy. We need to do much more to help the mentally ill.

But one thing also seems obvious to me eh?

If we want to make this country safer and better. If we want to live in OUR kind of Canada.

We need to remove this monster from power.

Before he turns it into a JUNGLE...

Click here to recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.


  1. Anonymous7:43 AM

    What should I tell my teen aged grandchildren about how to behave when they are out in public. No scuffling, ever, no shoving, no horsing around like normal teen agers do. Walk like you live in 1984.

    1. hi anonymous...yes that would be good advice. Walk like you live in 1984, leave your hoodie at home, and ALWAYS wear a bullet proof vest...

  2. When right-wing psychos see that the vast majority of their fellow citizens disagree with them, they attribute it to some vague, amorphous, Liberal brain-washing campaign.

    They imagine that if they just use our tax-dollars to fund their own brain-washing campaign, that they can turn us around.

    But only cretins and thugs (like the incompetent assholes who killed Mr. Yatim) will ever fall for that crap.

    1. hi thwap...yes I have noticed that the right-wingers are jumpimg up and down claiming the police did the right thing. Because he was carrying a knife only fifty feet from a police officer, and because he was an AY-RAB he had to be dangerous. One would think that they would react like humans to such an obvious execution, but that would be expecting too much...

  3. Anonymous9:13 AM

    These cops should be arrested for Homoscide , put them in prison. This is murder since the victim didn't pose a threat to them.

    1. hi anonymous...like you I hope that justice will be done, and that the police officer or police officers responsible are taken off the streets before they kill some other innocent person. Normally I would be pretty pessimistic, but thanks to all the video available I'm hoping they won't get away with it this time...

  4. Anonymous9:57 AM

    A schizophrenic friend of mine, off his medication, decided to take a walk downtown, armed with a carving knife in case he was attacked by the reptile aliens. He was intercepted by some beat cops who were able to calm and disarm him without incident. He was then driven to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

    These ordinary beat cops, without any specialised training, recognized that a person wandering around the downtown core with a knife was obviously in some kind of mental distress and dealt with the situation accordingly. No guns were drawn, let alone fired. Why the situation in Toronto wasn't handled in a similar way is a question that must be answered.

    Maybe you're right. Maybe the callous stupidity of the Harperites is seeping into the minds of their supporters. And maybe my friend was right about the existence of reptile aliens after all.

    1. hi anonymous...yes it's important not to tar all police officers with the same brush. There are good ones like the ones I met during the incident I mentioned in the post. Unfortunately it seems that the training is limited, so unless the ETF is involved, or the kind of beat cops you mention are involved, it could happen again. The police need to rely less on their weapons and more on the power of humanity and reason...

  5. I have known several people from Sammy's part of the world who suffer from PTSD. And what is going on now in Syria is only making it worse.

    He was the only person on that tram at the time; everyone else had safely left. The police were grossly incompetent.

    1. hi lagatta...yes I was going to mention that Sammy was from Aleppo, the place Al Jazeera recently called a "feral city" for the horrors that have happened there. It's clear the teenager was affected and had suffered some kind of breakdown, and the way he was treated is simply abominable. I will certainly follow this case as closely as I can...

  6. Anonymous11:42 AM

    Why were there 22 traffic cops 'with guns' responding to a job for a social worker.

    1. Anonymous6:39 PM

      Because he had a knife dummy. When a guy with a knife shows-up at your job, who are you going too call?

    2. hi anonymous 11:42 and 6:39...I'm not surprised so many police cars converged on the scene. It was a Friday night, and the notoriously rowdy Entertainment District is only a few blocks away. But since they were there in such numbers, and they were not in any immediate danger, they should have designated someone to talk to Sammy, find out what was the problem, instead of shooting him in such a callous manner...

  7. Anonymous12:21 PM

    This country is a typical of a Fascist Dictatorship and a Police State. Harper is worse than Sammy Yatim ever could have been. There are no morals nor ethics left in this country, what-so-ever. Canada is rotten to the core with corruption, because of Harper. Harper controls the judicial system and the Police, that's how he gets away with his crimes such as, cheating to win his so called majority. None us forget Harper's Police at the G-8. The Police commit worse crimes, than the people they arrest. Will Sammy and his parents see Justice? I doubt that very much.

    1. Anonymous6:41 PM

      Yeah yeah all Harper's fault, in the Liberal capital of Canada no less. Just another reason not to live anywhere near Toronto. But then again, if the Toronto Police keeps the left down, who am I too complain.

      Don't get on a street car in Toronto, you might get blown away.

    2. hi anonymous.12:21 and 6:41 What I was trying to say in the post was that when you hype a war on crime, even when the crime stats are going down. When you side with the police no matter what, you can create an atmosphere where such things can happen. And I don't think this has anything to do with right or left. Any decent person must surely recognize that what happened on that streetcar was a travesty of justice...

  8. Anonymous5:41 PM

    I support the police here. This thug had a weapon that could kill someone. I don't give a fuck if he had issues in his life. Too many assholes treat our police and laws like we're a fucking joke.
    People all over the world laugh at how soft we are. As example, this shitbag, yatim. He's bred from a culture of people that think they can do whatever they want. As evidence, repeatedly calling the police pussies. The now dead yatim started towards the door holding the knife, escalating the chance of confrontation, and after chances and clear instructions to drop the knife, the police took action.
    Thank God they have tools to stop arrogant, evil pukes like this. I'm sick of liberal, bleeding heart fucks that go insane when someone cuts them off in traffic, but cry foul when a real psycho holding a weapon, who has no care for even a police officer who's also holding a weapon, gets what he deserves. Take your misguided, patronizing, self-righteous bullshit and shove it up your asses. You want to convince yourself your morally superior by supporting this asshole because you perceive the police to represent, power or authority, and romanticise this kid as the victim. YOU ARE INSANE TO DO SO !!!
    Honestly, this world has never been better because of dipshits who allow violent people to have more protection than innocent citizens or the men and women who protect us

    1. hi anonymous...let me assure you that a lot of police officers don't agree with what happened. It's not a question of tarring the whole police force. It's a question of singling out some officers for failing to respect the limits of their jobs. The teenager was clearly disturbed, witnesses said he didn't point the knife at anyone, and shouting at police officers is not a good enough reason to shoot anyone. I can't understand why you are accusing me of being anti-police when I clearly praised the professionals of the ETF, and I would like other officers to be as well trained as they are...

    2. Obvious conservative asshole troll is obvious.

  9. Anonymous6:21 PM

    Middle Eastern (or Arab or Muslim) is the new Black; this is their Rodney King moment.

    1. hi anonymous...if you're going to turn this tragedy into a racial issue I really have nothing to say to you. Except try to be human and don't be ridiculous...

  10. Anonymous10:57 AM

    This is a well rounded blog which is a credible alternative to the corporate media. I am sure you are spending the time to turn out such a work, out of a strong social committment. I am dismayed to read the infantile responses from these right wing dunces whose lack of education or, what passes for education, have given them a crippled view of this world, making them resort to racist generalizations.
    In the case of that cop it seems that he was a weight lifting enthusiast and may have been using steriods. Note in the videos only one other cop had drawn his gun. If this cop had an anger problem based on steriod use, I am sure it will not come out.
    You don't just "find" a fact like this, it has to be actively investigated.