By now, you've either seen the video or heard the story.
A group of armed police officers respond to the scene of a disturbance on a TTC streetcar near Dundas and Trinity Bellwoods, where an 18-year-old by the name of Sammy Yatim is holding a knife threatening passengers. Bystanders and onlookers film the commotion, showing what looks to be a freshly evacuated streetcar with all but the knife-wielding teen yelling expletives at a group of between five to eight police officers, four of whom had their weapons drawn ordering him to drop his.
A few minutes into the video, three shots are fired by an officer at the teen inside the streetcar, the sound of sirens intensify as cops surround the front of the streetcar, pause -- and then six more shots fired into the streetcar followed by what sounds to be a taser discharge.
Multiple amateur videos showing the incident have gone viral since Saturday morning and discussion, anger and frustration have ensued -- rightfully so. What the video doesn't show is any immediate threat to any one of the plethora of officers at the base of the streetcar or any other individual in the area by the teen. This isn't about what he was doing on the streetcar with a knife or the disturbance he was causing, this is about justice.
The city's buzzing. Excessive use of force would be an understatement.
Chief Blair's remarks to the media on the matter sure didn't answer much either. He's bound by law to not disclose any information due to the SIU investigation and instead offered assurance to Torontonians that he's committed to finding the answers to the questions they seek. Few of those questions are: Did Sammy really have to be shot/shot at nine times? Was there no other, less lethal option that could have been used? What kind of threat did he pose to a group of armed police officers who outnumbered and surrounded him?
These questions are at the root of a call for justice and answers. An emergency vigil and march has been planned "to demand justice for Sammy and an end to police violence" on Facebook with over 1,000 confirmed.
This reveals the need for frank conversation and action, we can't wait for tipping points to engage in emotionally charged dialogue. I can only imagine the type of blowback that would have followed this incident had Sammy been a youth of colour or of African-Canadian descent.
The conversation would have possibly taken a different toll as it did on May 4, 1992 where riots and protests (mostly peaceful) broke out on Yonge street after the shooting of an unarmed black man by Toronto police. However, what I found most interesting was not so much Chief Blair's response, but how there was no barrage of questions directed at him by the media immediately following his exit from the room as would be standard procedure to any politician or public figure in such a situation.
Were his remarks that good that they warranted no question? I've seen reporters go to town on police or politicians post-conference in far less significant scenarios than this, what gives? While the SIU's ongoing investigation halts the answer-mill from spewing out any sort of logical justification for the shooting or lack of media questioning, we'll have to wait and be wise not to speculate.
While Toronto Police community engagement strategies have improved dramatically since 2005, there's been a cooling of community engagement on youth-police relations and police accountability measures since gun and gang violence decreased in the city.
As I've said publicly when addressing violence in the city, we can't wait until chaos hits close to home to be engaged in a solution, we have a moral responsibility to be civically involved, at the very least in an issue that we're passionate about. This shooting has unnerved many who would not normally be involved in traditional police/political issues primarily due to the video footage.
When something is blatantly unjust, it seems to hit close to home, getting the most cynical engaged and opinionated. But something like this can't happen again.
One thing's for sure, we need answers and we need them soon.