Cops who kill

Unless his lawyer wins a stay of sentence, Toronto cop James Forcillo will spend four years in prison for pumping too many shots into drug-crazed teen Sammy Yatim.

Before you read any further, watch the video (the Globe and Mail has the best edit). I had to watch it half a dozen times to get a clear idea of what happened that July evening in 2013. Stripped to basics, the video shows Yatim clearing out a TTC streetcar with his breast-grabbing, penis-exposing, knife-waving antics, then waiting for the police. Sometimes he’s immobile, other times pacing, but never making a move to leave the vehicle. When they arrive, the cops order the kid to drop the knife. Yatim takes a couple of steps toward the back of the streetcar, then moves into the doorway.

We see two, then three police officers 20-30 feet from the door. One of the cops has already assumed a firing stance. He drops Yatim with a three-shot volley. The shooter fires six more times. We see Yatim’s foot in the frame, jerking as five of the shots strike him.

It was on the basis of this video and weeks of testimony that the jury concluded Forcillo didn’t murder Yatim. They determined that Forcillo’s initial three-shot volley was in self-defence, so they did not find him guilty on the unpremeditated murder charge even though those first three shots killed Yatim.

We’ll never know for sure, but I think we can assume the jurors decided they had to find Forcillo guilty of something. So they got him for the attempted murder of the kid he’d already killed.

Thanks to the Harper government, attempted murder carries a four-year minimum sentence, which is why Forcillo’s lawyer proposes to challenge the constitutionality of mandatory minimums. Given the Supreme Court’s allergy to anything the Harper Tories rammed through Parliament, I’ll be interested to see how they deal with this.

The video I saw showed the execution of a skinny strung-out kid by a burly cop armed with the latest perp-stopping technology. It took me back to the first time I saw a police execution, the ambush of two bank robbers outside a caisse populaire on the south shore by members of the SQ holdup squad. I was a rookie police reporter but I knew what I’d seen was wrong. Since then I’ve chronicled maybe a dozen police executions, beginning with the 1987 murder of Anthony Griffin by a Montreal police officer. I can’t speak for the rest of Canada but most extrajudicial execution victims in Quebec seem to be members of visible minority and cultural communities – or aboriginals.

Before you accuse me of stereotyping all police officers as stone-faced killers, understand this: Canadians have assigned the job of dealing with society’s most disturbed individuals to our police forces. Whether it’s some poor soul off his/her meds having a psychotic episode in public, sex predator, jihadi terrorist or revenge-driven ex, it isn’t you or I who answer the 911 call. I can find sympathy for some cops who kill because they’ve never been taught or equipped to do better. Others should never have been hired, let alone armed. Political complicity is the reason why cops investigate cops, why cops are ready to perjure themselves to protect a colleague. We are moving past this. But we are moving far too slowly.

The Forcillo jury came to a ridiculous verdict. There’s nothing else to call it. But they’re like Canadians everywhere, sick of watching our police departments dealing inappropriately with society’s problems. Are we better off buying our cops better guns and   body armour or forcing elected officials and their top-cop appointees to move past the platitude-ridden bullshit we’ve been eating for far too long? One can only hope Canada’s top court recognizes this verdict for what it is – a call for help in stopping killer cops.

 

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3 thoughts on “Cops who kill

  1. Self defense always used to be blocking a blow or breaking a knife wielder’s arm with the special training that police officers are supposed to know how to do ? What I saw on that video was a police officer who had one of those savage mindless moments of a psychotic killer. Five shots into a supine jerking corpse in public view seems unpremeditated murder to me. Now on second thought I would say a mind like that had been looking to do that for years so skip that unpremeditated part.

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  2. I was confused by the verdict of guilty on attempted murder when a death was involved. I have deep sympathy on both sides, the family who lost a son and the cop who lost a career and must live with his actions.

    I respect cops and the job they do for us. I can’t imagine myself as a cop being confronted by an obviously disturbed and armed person, but I think the cop’s training made his choice automatic. The excessive shots were likely a reflex action, again habits developed in training.

    To have a minimum sentence would normally serve as a deterrent for a jury to convict in these questionable cases.

    Unless there is some inherent flaw we missed in a person we trained, I think the failures of a cop generally are failures of a system or extreme duress of a violent situation which no good person can ever be fully prepared for.

    Sympathies to all sides, I wish we wouldn’t have to confront these issues but they’re as old as the hills.

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  3. Am stepping into this conversation with a disclaimer. I have no background that would informs an educated response to Cops That Kill.- other than common sense.

    If sympathy should be allocated anywhere in this murder scene, I vote we have pity on the jurors Their fuzzy verdict signals that behind closed doors it was a split decision with no resolution in sight? Why did this happen?

    How would you like to be locked in room with twelve strangers on a fact finding mission under what is essentially a gag order and be expected to come out with a unanimous decision, one that responds to the betterment of the greater good, on a killing crime? It has to be the worst nightmare, particularly in these times when the debate on ‘ who is or isn’t a killer ‘ is splattered all over prime time news worldwide.

    These days it is not so unusual that the diner party topic de jour is about killing: killing techniques ( explosives, licence to carry a gun, poison, etc ) motives to kill ( religious, ethnic, money, medical, etc) who has a right to end a life and so on ………. At best, times are confusing.

    Doesn’t surprise me that the verdict in question blurted out as a double header and
    we are not talking baseball here, we are talking hard core ethical debates on The Killing Field. In their verdict the jurors took the road least traveled. They manoeuvred into the middle lane on two lane highway.

    The video is down right ugly. But no uglier than the footage coming out of Syria. Our disgust is stronger because the camerawork is up close
    and personal on a crime scene in Canada, in our own home-so to speak.

    Under such an ambivalent backdrop the jurors deserve more sympathy than scorn. Is it really such a big deal if the verdict was as unrealistic as being a little bit pregnant !

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