Reaction Roundup: what protestors, police and pundits are saying about Sammy Yatim’s death
Early Saturday morning, 18-year-old Sammy Yatim brandished a knife on the Dundas West streetcar, ordering everyone to get off. A short while later, police fired nine shots at the young man and killed him. The altercation, which was captured by multiple cellphones, has raised new questions regarding police conduct, propelling the issue back into headlines and citizens out onto the streets. Below, we round up the reactions from the public, police and columnists.
Close to a thousand protestors marched down Dundas Street West yesterday evening to a vigil at Bellwoods Avenue, the site of Saturday’s incident. Some marchers, including Yatim’s mother and sister, openly wept, while others lit candles, chanted “Justice for Sammy,” carried signs protesting police brutality and confronted officers assigned to the event.
The Response from Police
Police chief Bill Blair spoke to media about the incident even though the Special Investigations Unit is still investigating. He promised to address the public’s “very serious concerns” and ordered an interval review to see whether police policies and procedure were followed. Meanwhile, the head of the Toronto Police Services Board admitted he “was very surprised by the rapidity with which the incidents transpired.” The Toronto Police Association’s president cautioned that videos only give “one angle,” and said that the six-year-veteran who fired the shots is “absolutely devastated.” The officer has been suspended with pay.
The Calls for Caution
In the Toronto Sun, Jerry Agar pilloried the “armchair warriors” who are condemning police before the SIU determines whether or not they broke the law. A Globe and Mail editorial also chided the public for rushing to judgment. Although nine shots sounds excessive, the Globe’s editorial board noted police are trained to fire until an officer is certain an armed person is no longer a threat because their sidearms are not very accurate.
Similarly, the National Post’s Matt Gurney touched on police protocol in a well-researched column explaining why knife-wielding assailants pose more of a threat to police than the public may think. The paper’s graphics department also broke down how police determine how much force they should use in a given situation.
The Citizen Watchdogs
The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente says the case illustrates how cellphone cameras can help curb and catch police abuses. She argues that the videos shot by passersby are “far more damning and immediate than a bunch of conflicting eyewitness accounts could ever be—and it makes a cover-up impossible.” The Toronto Star, however, points out that police often accuse citizens lawfully recording video of “obstructing justice” to intimidate them into putting their cellphones away.