Witnesses say Sammy Yatim was alone on the 505 Dundas streetcar near Trinity Bellwoods Park when he was shot just after midnight ET Saturday morning. He had pulled a knife and ordered everybody off the streetcar, witnesses say.
You have a kid, in a now-empty streetcar, armed with a knife, surrounded by armed police. He's clearly not going anywhere and there is no one on board the train that he can harm. What do the cops do? Do they try to deescalate the situation, determine if there is a mental health problem, see what's going on that's causing this kid to do this? No. They shoot him. Nine times. In 13 seconds. It's the kind of behaviour I'd expect from American cops out in Los Angeles, not in Toronto.
What about those bullets? Streetcars's side structure is thin, what if one of those bullets had gone through the side and killed someone that was walking on the busy side street?
"Like many members of the public I have viewed the videos of this incident. I am aware of the various serious concerns that the public has," he said. "I know that people are seeking answers to what occurred, why it happened and if anything could have been done to prevent the tragic death of this young man."
"I am also seeking answers to those important questions."
Seriously, Chief? You're seeking answers? If anything, you should be the first one to know them -- and then some. And how to have prevented it? Here's one way: don't shoot someone, never mind nine times, when they're really only a danger to themselves and the upholstery of a streetcar, not the civilians or the police constables involved.
Here's what gets to me: while still on the streetcar, the cops shoot the kid three times. That's already over-kill, but even if you missed two out of three, a bullet is still debilitating enough to stop anyone. Then there's a pause, then six more shots. SIX MORE SHOTS. And if that wasn't good enough, before arresting him, they tasered him. Seriously? Who was more dangerous here?
Granted, he was brandishing a knife. Granted, he was threatening the other passengers. Granted, he walked into this situation and put danger on himself. Yet, here's a valid point in an article about the victim when thinking of the rapid escalation witnessed:
"Sammy used to spend the summers with his mom in Syria until the situation became so dangerous," he said.
But he said Yatim, who worked at a Sheppard Ave. McDonald's until about six months ago, had never shown signs of mental illness or violence. A bus driver once lodged a complaint against him for having an "attitude," he said.
"Since when did it become a crime to be a teenager, I ask you?" he said. "And since when does a scrawny 110-pound-something teenager become a threat to a dozen or so brawny policemen, when he is isolated in an empty streetcar that they felt that they had no other choice but to use lethal force?"
And according to security expert and former Police Constable Ross McLean, the video "raises serious questions about how police handled the confrontation":
McLean says if the officers had waited another minute for the officer with the Taser to arrive instead of opening fire, Yatim might be alive today. "Should you be Tasering someone who's been shot six or nine times and lying on the ground?" he told CBC News.
McLean says the video also suggests police did not engage the suspect.
"Your mouth is your best weapon," he said.
The key is to communicate with and contain the suspect, he said.
"He was fairly contained. He was in the streetcar. He could have let that guy sit there all night."
Police can be heard on the enhanced video saying "Drop the knife!" and "If you take one step in this direction, you're finished," McLean told CBC host Matt Galloway on Toronto's morning radio program Metro Morning.
And it looks like the scene contamination that followed wasn't handled well either.
What surprises me the most is that I am angry about this. I'm surprised how many other people are angry about it, too. Perhaps it reminds us all too well of the death of Robert Dziekański. Yes, Chief Blair, we all have "various serious concerns" about what happened, especially if this type of response has become the new modus operandi we're to expect when dealing with law enforcement.