A Strange Day in Toronto

January 26, 2016 at 10:18 pm (Uncategorized)

A strange thing happened yesterday. But before I get to that, it’s  necessary to go back and explain the context.

In the early hours of July 27, 2013, 18 year old Sammy Yatim stands alone on a Toronto streetcar brandishing a knife. Passengers have fled earlier when Yatim exposes himself, and at one point swings at a passenger with the knife. Police surround the vehicle and argue with Yatim. Officer James Forcillo tells Yatim if he takes another step, he’ll shoot him. Still far away at the top of the steps, Yatim moves and Forcillo who has curiously placed himself near to the doors shoots him three times dropping him to the ground. He pauses and fires a further six shots.  For good measure, a colleague of Forcillo’s tases the prone Yatim.

Strange thing number 1. Rather than the usual inquiry followed by non-filing of charges as so often happens, Forcillo is charged with second degree murder and attempted murder. During the long trial, Forcillo and his lawyer argue self-defence maintaining that the second volley of shots was the result of Yatim sitting up to continue the attack. Video revealed this did not take place. One of Forcillo’s earlier shots had already paralyzed Yatim.

Strange thing number 2. Forcillo is acquitted of second degree murder, but convicted of attempted murder. (Since these were two separate charges, it was possible for Forcillo to be guilty of trying to murder a man he had just killed) . In case after case in the US and in Canada too, cops have operated with impunity killing with little fear of consequences.  Cops are seldom charged even under dubious circumstances, and juries are reluctant to convict, giving the police the benefit of the doubt (“it’s a hard job,” “he did have a knife” etc)  Watching those videos of the scene captured by smart phones and TTC surveillance, it seemed so clear what Forcillo had done, but so often so often, what I see as crystal clear is not the way it plays out.

Forcillo’s lawyer, who had earlier tried unsuccessfully tried to introduce the theory of suicide by cop, immediately argued for a stay (basically the judge ignores the verdict and dismisses the case), arguing that he was trained and licenced by the state and that civilians had no authority here. Further that Forcillo had no fair trial; trial-by-You-Tube had demonized the cop. (Without those terrifying videos, there would likely have been no trial Maybe trial because of You-Tube is more accurate ). My favourite comment though was by Bill McCormack head of the thuggish Toronto Police Association who said he was shocked by the verdict and it sent a “chilling message” to cops. That you can’t shoot people with no consequences? That’s a chilling message? Uh huh.

Is this a victory? Better than nothing, but not by much, many will say. Is this justice? Hardly. Can justice be given under this system? Don’t hold your breath. But in a world where the Tamir Rices, the Michael Browns, the Eric Garners are blamed for their own murders, their families libelled and slandered, it seemed like a big deal that someone could charged and then convicted.

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