The emotional but peaceful protest of Sammy Yatim's fatal shooting spanned three hours and several downtown neighbourhoods.
Yesterday evening, several hundred protesters marched in remembrance of Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by Toronto police while alone on a downtown streetcar very early Saturday morning.
Yatim’s parents and sister led protesters for most of the march, which began at Yonge-Dundas Square, then stopped and sat at the site of his death near Trinity Bellwoods Park to light candles. Although the family left the scene shortly afterwards, at least two hundred people continued marching to 14 Division, the local police unit that responded after Yatim brandished a knife on a streetcar and allegedly asked patrons to exit the vehicle.
In a widely circulated video of the incident, police seemed to fire nine shots at Yatim, and then deployed a taser against the young man after he had been shot. The Special Investigations Unit, which looks into all civilian injuries and deaths involving the police, is investigating the shooting, and the officer who shot Yatim has been suspended with pay. As per SIU protocol, the officer’s name has not been made public.
We spoke with many people at the rally, many of whom have been personally affected by police violence, and others who were simply moved to come out of shock and outrage at Yatim’s death. Here is a sample of their voices:
Wasowicz is the sister of Sylvia Klibingaitis, who was shot and killed by police in 2011 after she called 911 to report that she had a knife and was experiencing psychosis.
“Seeing what happened to Sammy makes me relive the same horrific tragedy…they said ‘Put down the knife,’ and Sylvia was killed within seconds. She was outside alone with two policemen outside of her own house.”
“People aren’t taking mental illness seriously. It’s still viewed with stigma and vagueness. [Sylvia] was seeing a psychiatrist up until the day she died…I don’t feel enough public woke up with Michael Eligon being shot, and my sister Sylvia. Finally, this is the kind of public response I would like to see, which is why I’m here. It gives me hope that she didn’t die in vain. ”
“I couldn’t believe it when Edmund Yu was killed in 1997. If somebody had told me my own sister would be killed 15 years later, I would tell them they’re insane, but it came true.”
Sumadh is a retiree who came with a friend after hearing about Yatim on the news.
“The police supposedly are trained to talk down and they don’t do it. The entire police force needs to be retrained. The police, for some reason, are alarmed, and I don’t know why they’re so frightened. It maybe is that speaking to people is not something they’re skilled at. Why they would shoot nine times—it’s unbelievable. We really need to call our police to task.”
Rebick is a social activist who has a long history of advocating against police brutality.
“I was just horrified that they’d kill a kid who was alone on a streetcar. When I saw the video, I just couldn’t believe it…In the ’80s, we were marching against the shooting of black kids, when the cops were shooting black kids like [Michael] Wade Lawson. We thought we’d stopped that sort of shooting, but this is so similar.”
“We know there’s racism underneath that shooting…he was middle-eastern, and he’s on a streetcar. What’s the threat, unless you think he’s going to blow it up or something? That’s crazy, racist shit—I have no evidence for that, I just feel it.”
“None of the other cops tried to stop him. Nobody tackled him or told him to stop, that we could hear. I think this is indicative of a real serious problem in the police. We need a public inquiry, not these bullshit inquiries the cops have of themselves…I think we need an independent inquiry led by a judge.”
Lemisha (no surname given)
Lemisha is a student who came to the protest after hearing about Yatim’s death in the media.
“The streetcar has three doors. You’re telling me they were that terrified of a child with a knife? It has to stop: he’s one, and there will be many more if we don’t talk about it. Everybody knows that you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Why don’t the police know it? The sad thing about it is that we already know that nothing’s going to happen, because it never does.”
Lipton is a labour and environmental activist.
“I’m angry that the life of a young man was taken so quickly and so stupidly by a police officer who obviously forgot all his training. It’s time that the police answer for what they do. I thought they might have learned something after the G20, but obviously not…”
“The initial responders shouldn’t have guns, because they have shown that they cannot use their guns responsibly in this city. And who dies? It’s young males, usually of a minority group. There was no need at all for this.”
LaRiviere is a Toronto resident who claims her family members have repeatedly experienced violence at the hands of Toronto police.
“I don’t know [Yatim], but I was here with his family when we started at Yonge-Dundas Square. I have a place in my heart for him because both my sons have been assaulted by the police, and it needs to stop. It’s about justice for Sammy, for all the people who have been abused by the police. These police could have tasered Sammy, they could have talked to him. Get rid of the guns!”
Will is a student who came to 14 Division to show support for the Yatim family.
“I just came to support the murder victim, and to ask for justice. I think they went way too far. One shot, maybe, but nine shots? It leaves a lot to be desired…”
“They need to take strong actions against the guys who break the law. Putting the guy on leave with pay, that’s not enough. We need strong action to restore the confidence of the people. I understand they have a job to do, but people want to have a system that is accountable to everybody…what did they think he was going to do? No one was in immediate danger.”
Fatma Al Nadir and Basma Al Nadir
Fatma and Basma are the sisters of Alwy Al-Nadhir, an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed by Toronto police in 2007.
Fatma: “We’re supporting his family because we know how it feels to go through the same thing, having a family member murdered without any reason or consequences… My brother was shot by a Toronto police officer. The police officer went free… We still see the officer roaming around in the streets. He’s still doing his job, like he wasn’t a murderer and didn’t shoot anybody…”
“There’s more people aware of what’s going on and people are not tolerating it. Back in 2007, not a lot of citizens knew what the Toronto police were doing. Now that it’s in the media and there are videos, people are starting to realize that it could be their own family and sons.”
Basma: “Even in the inquest [into Alwy's death], we could see that the system is against the civilians. It’s not only when someone’s killed, it’s also about young men being harassed in their neighbourhoods… What excuse are they going to come up with now? There is no excuse.”