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.
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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...
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