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Sammy Yatim Protesters Blame the Police

A protest in memory of Sammy Yatim became a general airing of grievances against police.

A second protest demanding justice for Sammy Yatim, who was shot and killed by Toronto police late last month, took place this afternoon. The crowd of roughly 300 marched from Yonge-Dundas Square to Toronto Police headquarters on College Street, chanting slogans like, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” “Jail those cops” and “Justice for Sammy, justice for all.” The protest included members of Yatim’s family, as well as the families of other young men who have been shot by police.

The group massed in front of police headquarters, blocking College Street as several impassioned speakers addressed the crowd from the back of a pickup truck. While most of the speakers didn’t identify themselves, one who did was Reuben Abib, of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and the Black Action Defence Committee. He said that the shooting of Sammy Yatim was part of a broader pattern of violence by the police against young men of colour.

“In 1988, when the Black Action Defence Committee was formed, we did so with the ideal that we would stop the police’s indiscriminate killing,” he said. “It is now 2013. Young Sammy, who wasn’t even alive when we formed, is dead.”

“Every single policeman you see, every clip he has on him has 15 rounds. Every time they pull their weapon, it’s attempted murder. They do not shoot to wound, they do not shoot to scare, they only shoot to kill.”

Abib wasn’t the only with a complaint about police as a whole. Indeed, the protest seemed to be only partially about the Yatim killing. For the most part, it was a general airing of grievances. More than one speaker drew parallels with the killing of Freddie Villanueva, an 18-year-old Honduran immigrant who was shot by police in Montreal in 2008. People held banners demanding that the police be disarmed. One unnamed speaker demanded the abolition of police forces entirely, saying that they’re part of a long history of oppression.

“The Royal Northwest Mounted Police, who became the RCMP, were created to crush the rebellion of Louis Riel,” said the man, who identified himself as a writer for Basics Community News. “While they were building the train tracks across the country, the police came to murder and snatch native children out of their homes and put them in residential schools. This is the legacy we’re left with. A paramilitary force who exist to protect the rich from us.”

A man named Joseph Azar, who thanked protesters “on behalf of the family” was the only person to deliver any kind of pro-police message.

“I want to make it clear, we respect the police. We respect the institution,” he said. “We’re not here to challenge the police…We should not hold the whole police force responsible for one person’s mistake. We should not lose our faith in this institution.”

Azar’s relatively moderate attitude was met with a smattering of boos and shouts of, “It’s systemic.” He finally won the crowd over, though, when he produced the standard training manual for Toronto taxi drivers.

“We want the force to go to proper training,” he said. “Cab drivers in the City of Toronto have to go for a training course to deal with the public. I’m just wondering, do the police go through the same training?”

The protest was scheduled to coincide with the Yatim family’s meeting with the Police Services Board. They were still inside when the protest began to peter out at 3 p.m.

CORRECTION: August 13, 2013, 5:45 PM This post originally misidentified a young woman as Sarah Yatim, Sammy’s sister, in two photo captions. The captions have been corrected.

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