Turning on the news Saturday morning to learn someone reportedly with a knife on board a Toronto streetcar was shot and killed by police, scared the crap out of me. Having my significant other work as a driver, I hear all sorts of stories regarding eventful evenings (most of them humorous) on board a public transportation vehicle. Initially I empathized right away with the driver of the streetcar, knowing what they deal with on a daily basis; I could only imagine the driver didn't sleep well that night.
Next I thought about all of those poor people on board that streetcar. Imagine yourself being a passenger, the fear, panic and confusion you would feel not knowing exactly what is going on. All you know or hear is that someone has a knife and you may be in potential danger. The final person I thought of was the young man who was shot, the person apparently holding a knife in a streetcar full of people on a Friday night. What was going on in his life that had led him to that moment? Was he OK? Was he mentally stable? Was he drunk/on drugs? I had so many questions run through my mind, but like other people watching the news, had no answers. Turns out that young man was an 18-year-old named Sammy Yatim.
It has been a few days since the incident, and a lot of publicity has been given to this tragic story because the whole ordeal was caught on tape. Like many people, I too have seen the video and can hear the gunshots go off after hearing someone yell out, "put down the knife." My initial thoughts after watching the video were, "why did someone think to film this?," "That was a lot of shots fired" and finally "What a tragedy." Many people became upset after seeing this video because of the amount of shots fired and they believe it was unnecessary force. I, too, was shaken up about the number of shots being fired. Even if Sammy did have a knife and was threatening the cops, was shooting him nine times necessary? And then to top it off, we learn that a Taser was used as well.
Many of us can agree that for the most part, police do protect us and save lives on a daily basis. But then on the other hand, take the G20 riots in Toronto as an example, many cops assaulted women and beat innocent people yet none of them were "charged" or penalized in any way. Just because someone is a police officer, it does not give them the right to break the law. At the end of the day, Sammy's life was taken by a police officer, whether or not he was a threat, there had to have been a better way to deal with the situation. Perhaps a non-violent crisis intervention of some sort, or giving him a little more time to talk might have changed the outcome. The police have been in hot-water previously for similar events, and perhaps it's time they learn a new approach to deal with these sorts of crises.
A protest can be defined as "an expression of objection, by words or by actions, to particular events, policies or situations. Yesterday, Toronto witnessed a protest in search for answers of Sammy's death. Many supporters held signs reading "police brutality," "cops kill," "we want his name (the police officer)," "bring out the killer," "SHAME." I can fully understand the hatred and disgust from Sammy's family at this moment in time towards the police. I can also understand the lack of trust and respect for the police if you yourself have been a victim of police brutality. But at what point does a sincere protest become a parade of stupidity on our streets? "We want justice for Sammy" many protesters shouted. I agree whole heartedly that the questions we all have about the events of Saturday morning need to be answered. Until we get those answers, is categorizing all police officers as killers and murderers going to bring Sammy any justice?
I was watching the events unfold live and saw people screaming "you should be ashamed of yourselves" at individual police officers walking along the route. Shouting at another police officer is not going to change the situation, nor bring justice. The Toronto Police slogan "To Serve and Protect" is one many of us know and hear often, but yesterday signs mocked the slogan, reading "Protect us from our protectors." I believe in the freedom of speech, and protesting to create awareness to bring about change. But I do not agree with people who make noise, just for the sake of making noise. I witnessed random people minding their own business "join" the protest by screaming "f--- the police" only when news cameras turned in their direction. This is not helpful to the true protesters who are ultimately there demonstrating for peace, justice and change.
We live in a society full of "slacktivists," my friend would say, meaning our generation is full of activists without a real cause. Many people feel entitled to voicing their opinions on a subject, even if they have very little knowledge about what it is they are protesting. It's easy for us to point fingers and blame others, especially when we don't have the concrete answers we want. As a community, we need to collectively look at the bigger picture. What can we do to protect ourselves against the use of excessive police force? What can the police do to change these outcomes? What can we learn from this tragic incident, and how can we bring about change?
Only the driver and a few passengers on that streetcar know what happened before the police showed up. Not one person knows what was going on in Sammy's head that night. Nobody can say for sure what happened before he got on that streetcar. And finally, nobody knows what exactly happened between the police and Sammy, except for the police and Sammy. Let's try to learn from this tragedy, let's see if there is a better way to handle these situations, and lastly let's not let our anger overshadow the fact that at the end of the day, Sammy, a son, brother and friend, is no longer with us.