Mannion on Sammy Yatim shooting

Some sobering thoughts

Shannon Lee Mannion urges caution in jumping to conclusions

about a cop shooting a teenager in a Toronto streetcar last July

By Shannon Lee Mannion
Contributing Editor
True North Perspective

Photo: Sammy Yatim, via Rabble.caThere are details not being discussed about that grievous Saturday in July, on a late-night Toronto Transit Commission street car, when 18-year-old, Sammy Yatim walked to the rear, sat down among a group of teenaged girls and pulled a knife out of his pocket and his penis out of his pants.

What's that, you say, you didn't hear about the penis?

Try Googling Sammy Yatim and penis and it'll be there along with eye-witness accounts of what exactly transpired that had every passenger panicked, screaming in fear and running to the exits for their lives.

Every slow step Sammy Yatim took toward the front of the tram, right arm locked with the knife rigid in his hand and his genitals in his left, was a moment of terror for the driver and his charges.

One man, a visitor from New York, Aaron Li-Hill, who was with his girlfriend, heroically used his bicycle as a barrier to hold back Sammy Yatim while the streetcar halted and the driver opened the doors. Everyone streamed to safety, tumbling over one another while Sammy Yatim shouted, “You're a fucking pussy, you bitches, you fucking bitches!”

So much anger.

But anger about what? Because the girls rejected his proffered penis? Because of something that had transpired earlier in the evening about which we will never know? Because he was drunk? Or was he stoned? Maybe on the drug euphemistically called, Bath Salts. It makes people act irrationally.

So is it any wonder, passengers disembarked willy-nilly, that cell phones were immediately deployed with one of the girls, scared witless, calling 911 in hysterics crying, “A man tried to kill me!”

And is it any wonder that when the police arrived, in a cadre of squad cars, sirens wailing, cops in Kevlar, adrenalin pumping, and they see someone with a knife who continues to advance although he's been told to drop the knife at least eight times and told to not move, that the cop does what in that split second seems like a necessary thing to do; he shoots Sammy Yatim?

  What do you think?

It took only 40 seconds for this to unfold, at least, this is what we see from the tape that was made. But was there more that took place before the record button was pushed? Did Sammy Yatim and officers confer at all before Constable James Forcillo thought there was no way out but to shoot? There may have been a discussion about which no one but the police are aware.

The police view is that someone wielding a weapon within 20 feet poses a mortal risk and should be stopped with lethal force. Any kind of slashing or stabbing instrument, scissors, knife, is defined as a weapon in this case.

It sounds hardly dangerous that the weapon Sammy Yatim brandished was three to four inches, but do this: hold up your hand and your longest finger is probably three inches long. Longer than you thought, isn't it? A blade that long isn't just apt to do damage, in the wrong hands, it will do damage.

Let it be known that shooting people is an extreme solution but it is reported that Forcillo called for a Taser several times before he opened fire. Since only supervisors carry Tasers and one was not present, this was an abortive attempt to forestall the inevitable. Sammy Yatim was in possession of a weapon, he was behaving irrationally, and he was uncooperative. He had to be stopped.
Questions arising: Why were so many shots fired. Were they from one gun? Why did no other officer try to mitigate the situation? Forcillo was on his seventh day working in a row and it was late at night. Was he overly tired? Was he taking prescriptive or street drugs? Why did the supervisor use a Tazer on Sammy Yatim after-the-fact?

As for Sammy Yatim, word has it that he was in with a wrong crowd? What does this mean? Was he drunk or stoned that fateful night? Where was he coming from? Where was he going to? He'd only been in Canada for five years. Was he comfortable here? He'd been living with his father but had recently left his parent's house. Where was he living? Friends say he was finally finding his feet. What else had been going on in Sammy Yatim's life?