So many troubling questions about the killing of Sammy Yatim

Yes, there are many troubling questions about what happened when police shot Sammy Yatim 9 times, tasered and cuffed him and he died. Our media/journalists are doing an excellent job asking some important question. Most recently, I read this piece by Edward Keenan.  He asks some excellent questions and outlines so many things we don’t know.

But, there are many things we do know. These things we do know need to be discussed.

Keenan asks: “Why did none of those officers attempt to reason with him, or offer him some sympathy, or negotiate with him? Is it possible that they did so before the cameras started rolling?”

They did, actually, after the cameras were rolling. In the video, we clearly hear a female officer, near the front doors, gun not drawn, (about 8 seconds in, in the video below) asking Sammy “Are you the only one on the streetcar?” She appears to move in front of the window around 15 seconds in the video. Why is this attempted engagement/conversation/de-escalation not allowed to continue? Why, if the threat is so immediate and overwhelming, would she stand without gun drawn, so close to Sammy?

The first obvious thing that officers must do when arriving to such a situation is assess the situation. According to the Toronto Police Use of Force Committee (PDF), “the safety of police officers is recognized as a fundamental concern” when use of force may be necessary. Are these officers trained in this? Is it problematic that only the safety of officers is the fundamental concern? Is that why the feel it might be acceptable to shoot 9 times in a heavily populated area, completely unsecured by the police at this point?

Should we not be concerned by the reality that “the average police-issue sidearm will hit a target that is between six and 21 feet away less than 25 per cent of the time, according to New York Police Department statistics that were analyzed by The New York Times in 2007. Police sidearms are chosen for their reliability, not their accuracy. Even at a range of six feet or less, the accuracy rate is below 50 per cent.” (From Globe and Mail)

Why not wait until ETF can arrive with appropriate equipment?

Perhaps a better definition for appropriate use of force: “The officer continuously assesses the situation and acts in a reasonable manner to ensure officer AND PUBLIC SAFETY.” (caps and emphasis added) Yes. Why not also make public safety a fundamental concern?




This article about Use of Force among Canadian police forces offers additional insight, including: “The National Use-of-Force Framework is not intended to serve as a justification for officer use of force nor does it prescribe specific response options appropriate to a situation.” This seems important… Is it even possible that an officer can adequately assess a situation 2 minutes after arriving, guns drawn, heart and adrenalin pumping, yelling back and forth at someone with a knife? I can’t possibly see how.

More on the National Use of Force model:

The TPS Use of Force Committee report continues: “there are situations where deadly force is avoidable and officers should consider disengagement or tactical repositioning. In the view of some officers, though, disengagement may be considered a “retreat”, “an objectionable concept to many police officers (Geller, Scott: 310).” However, instruction that emphasizes the use of these options, as part of judgement training, may combat a police culture which values direct action – improving the chances of successful non-violent conclusions to incidents;”

“Police culture.” Yes, that also needs to be addressed. Throughout North America, in Toronto most recently at the G20, we have seen an increase in the militarization of police forces. This culture seems to be running generally unchecked. It is out of control. It is not acceptable. This also is a factor in this situation, one that must be discussed, publicly, and addressed.

In this case, there’s clearly no communication among officers, no one has taken control of the scene, there’s no crowd control or perimeter. These officers are not in control of the situation in any meaningful way. They are reacting, they are not thinking. They are not following any reasonable principles of acceptable engagement with Sammy. They have decided that there is an imminent threat, which they have not adequately assessed and they are shooting, tasering, cuffing first, then figuring out what happens next.

This is not acceptable.

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Communications in social services/social change, immigration, diversity & inclusion in Toronto. Wannabe librarian, interested in nonprofit tech innovation.

Communications in social services/social change, immigration, diversity & inclusion in Toronto. Wannabe librarian, interested in nonprofit tech innovation.

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