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Police bullets killed Sammy Yatim. Nine bullets fired from Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo’s gun.

I want to make that very clear from the beginning.

There is no mystery here regarding who shot Sammy Yatim. But the ruling passed down by the jury regarding whether Forcillo could be found guilty of murdering the Toronto teenager is confusing.

What we do know for sure is that 18-year-old Sammy Yatim never left the Toronto streetcar he climbed onto that early summer morning of July 27, 2013.

He died in a hail of nine bullets and was then Tasered. Toronto Police Services, tragically just like other law enforcement agencies across North America, has a history of killing young, non-white men. Our much-celebrated multiculturalism and lack of a right-wing, John Wayne gun culture, does not make us immune to the problems that plague our southern neighbour.

On Monday January 25, 2016, a jury found Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in the death of Yatim. Forcillo fired two volleys of shots in close succession as Yatim stood at the front of an empty TTC streetcar, holding a small pocket knife in his hands. Video of the incident quickly went viral.

According to Sammy Yatim’s father, his son was troubled in the early hours that summer morning but he would later define such behaviour as out of character for the quiet and shy teenager. Regardless, his father explained that his son knew he needed help and was trying to reach out to family, but could not find someone to lend him a cellphone.

It is still unclear as to where Yatim got the small pocket knife he was carrying. Or exactly what was his state of mind.

It’s the little things, like what could have happened differently if he would have gotten in touch with someone. Could he have been talked into a better frame of mind?

Of if he had not been carrying that knife, would Toronto police have resolved the conflict differently? Would the police have been as prone to shoot if Yatim posed no threat to anyone, himself or otherwise?

What we do know — and what the world would come to see over YouTube as video of the shooting quickly went viral — was that ultimately Yatim was showered with nine shots (eight of the nine bullets struck killed the Toronto teenager) and then Tasered at the hands of the Toronto Police Service.

But it’s really the audio that is the most chilling. You can hear those nine shots, fired in two volleys shot in close succession. Was Yatim alive to hear all nine? We’ll never know. It is telling that the jury did not believe Forcillo when he claimed that he saw Yatim sit up to a 45-degree angle about to “renew his attack.”

Another question I would like to ask but will most likely never have answered is why did the Toronto police Taser Yatim’s body after they had shot him nine times? Was the officer trying to bring him back to life? Was he testing out his new toy?

There are even more questions and confusion regarding the outcome of Constable Forcillo’s trial in regards to the jury’s return of a verdict of not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, but that of guilty of attempted murder, after firing two volleys of shots into a knife-wielding 18 year old on an empty streetcar.  

As to how someone who has never disputed that he killed someone could be found guilty of attempted murder, the explanation needs some explaining.

The jury’s verdicts, which were delivered after 33 hours of deliberations, mean that the jury believed that Forcillo’s shooting Yatim in that first volley was not a criminal act.

Breaking this down, let me remind you that Forcillo fired two volleys into Yatim’s body.

It’s for the first volley that the jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges since the group felt the officer’s actions were justified because Yatim was holding a knife, as small as it was.

It’s the decision to fire the second round of shots that the jury found Forcillo guilty of attempted murder. The jury did not believe the officer’s testimony that he saw Yatim move and therefore felt the teen was still a threat, so therefore the second volley of shots — fired five and one half seconds after the first volley — was neither justifiable nor in self-defence.

Forcillo’s legal defence would later complain that his client went through a “trial by YouTube” in regards to how well publicized the shooting was and the fact that civilians were filming the event. As a fellow citizen, I feel this is a pretty cheap and cynical response.

I’m actually glad that someone other than the police (there is a body camera test pilot project being currently run at 43 and 55 Divisions, Traffic Services and TAVIS Rapid Response Teams respectively, in part as an operational response to the Yatim shooting) was filming that night, so the public doesn’t just have the take the officer at their word regarding what happened since dead teenagers don’t talk).

And where does this leave Toronto police? There is some controversy regarding how much of the Police Encounters with People in Crisis recommendations have been implemented. The retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci’s report on police use of force recommendations are from 2014 and focus on everything from body cameras, the expansion of taser use to training that focuses on de-escalation.

In the near future, the Toronto Police Services body camera pilot project will come to an end — you can comment at this link here. 

The sentencing hearing in this case will not be until May, 2016.

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Krystalline Kraus

krystalline kraus is an intrepid explorer and reporter from Toronto, Canada. A veteran activist and journalist for rabble.ca, she needs no aviator goggles, gas mask or red cape but proceeds fearlessly...