Wednesday 31 July 2013

How many bullets do you need to stop an 18-year-old teenager?

Update: April 24, 2014: see below

Nine, apparently.

The city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada is in an absolute uproar over the killing of Sammy Yatim this past Saturday by the police no less. (July 27, 2013) The story goes that Sammy was riding a streetcar just after midnight when he brandished a three-inch knife and ordered everybody out. The police quickly arrived to find Sammy on the streetcar all by himself. Officers ordered the teenager to drop his weapon. He didn't. After a moment, one or more officers opened fire and a total of nine shots were discharged. Sammy ended up very much dead.

A tragic story indeed, however, there have been a number of videos posted on YouTube of the actual incident which completely brings into question why what happened had to happen at all. Sammy Yatim is seen on the streetcar all by himself. No members of the public are close or in jeopardy. The police are backed away at a distance and the number of officers far outweighs the threat of one teenager. The questions remain. Why shoot him? Why fire nine times? Why didn't anybody talk him down? Why didn't the police just wait it out? It has now been revealed that after the nine shots when the police did rush the streetcar, they then tasered Sammy. If they had a taser, why didn't they use that in the first place instead of shooting the boy?

The whole incident is horrible. It is startling. But the mystery to be solved is the videos which clearly show the entire story from beginning to end. Nobody can brush this one off. Nobody can fudge the facts. Everybody, absolutely everybody has been caught on video.

Constable James Forcillo has been suspended with pay and is currently under investigation.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair made a public statement promising to get answers about what happened and to offer his condolences to Sammy's family. He was quoted as saying, "As a father I can only imagine their terrible grief and their need for answers. Like many members of the public, I have viewed the video of this incident. I am aware of the very serious concerns that the public has. I know that people are seeking answers as to what occurred, why it happened and if anything could have been done to prevent the tragic death of this young man. I am also seeking the answers to these important questions."

I've watched the videos. I'm sitting here shaking my head. I'm a law abiding citizen as much as the next guy and I certainly support the police and civil order. But nine shots? Holy Hannah, is this a WTF moment or what? Who's the Dirty Harry yahoo with the department issued sidearm? For crying out loud, it's an 18-year-old kid. Was he drunk? Was he on drugs? Was he in his right mind? Whatever the case, what was the point of what is clearly excessive force against a teenager with a pocket knife? And the police had a taser but only used it after shooting at the kid nine times?

Published on Jul 26, 2013 by Martin Baron
Police shoot 18 year old Sammy Yatim at Bellwoods and Dundas, Toronto
18 year old Sammy Yatim was holding up a knife on an empty streetcar. The cops surrounded him and ordered him repeatedly to drop it. He wouldn't, then they shot him. Listen for the Taser at 1:01.

Amadou Diallo
In the early morning of February 4, 1999, four New York City Police Department plain-clothed officers fired 41 rounds at a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, 19 of which hit the victim. The story is a tragic tale of mistaken identity, the officers thinking Diallo matched the description of a well-armed serial rapist.

The officers claimed they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers and that Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his apartment house doorway at their approach, ignoring their orders to stop and "show his hands". The porch lightbulb was out and Diallo was backlit by the inside vestibule light, showing only a silhouette. Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. Seeing the suspect holding a small square object, Carroll yelled "Gun!" to alert his colleagues. Mistakenly believing Diallo had aimed a gun at them at close range, the officers opened fire on Diallo. During the shooting, lead officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot. The four officers fired 41 shots, more than half of which went astray as Diallo was hit 19 times. (Wikipedia: Amadou Diallo shooting)

Jeffrey Johnson
On Friday, August 24, 2012, at around 9:03 a.m. by the Empire State Building in New York, Jeffrey Johnson, a laid off clothing designer, shot and killed his former boss. A witness followed Johnson and alerted the police as to what happened.

When confronted by the two officers, Johnson raised his weapon, but did not fire. The officers fired a total of 16 rounds, killing Johnson and injuring nine bystanders, none of whom suffered life-threatening wounds. Three of the bystanders were directly hit by police gunfire, while the rest of the injuries were caused by fragments of ricocheting bullets, or by debris from other objects hit by police.

At a news conference shortly after the shootings, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that it appeared that police might have accidentally shot civilians during the incident. The day following the shooting, Kelly confirmed that all of the bystanders had been wounded as a result of police gunfire. (Wikipedia: 2012 Empire State Building shooting)

Being Scared
Somebody points a gun at me. I think somebody is pointing a gun at me. I am scared that somebody could point a gun at me or cause me harm in some way. I get it. And I sympathise with any officer out there on the frontlines dealing with scary situations. I don't envy them their jobs and I wouldn't trade places with them for all the tea in China. You think your life is in jeopardy and the fight or flight instinct kicks in and the adrenaline starts pumping. Time to stop thinking and time to start doing.

The Globe and Mail, in an July 29/2013 editorial, brings up an interesting point to the story.

Officers who have made the split-second decision to use lethal force will rarely fire a single shot. This is because the average police-issue sidearm will hit a target that is between six and 21 feet away less than 25 per cent of the time, according to New York Police Department statistics that were analyzed by The New York Times in 2007. Police sidearms are chosen for their reliability, not their accuracy. Even at a range of six feet or less, the accuracy rate is below 50 per cent. Officers are consequently trained only to stop an armed person from advancing; there is no gain in attempting to inflict a wound, and the officer will continue to fire until he or she is certain the armed person no longer poses a threat. (I failed to locate The New York Times analysis mentioned above.)

Final Word
This is a tragedy. An 18-year-old teenager is dead. Even if, statistically, this is an anomaly, we are still faced with a dead human being. With the videos posted for the entire world to see, everybody is going to weigh in with their own opinion; everybody is going to play armchair general, Monday morning quarterback. What would I do? In the cold light of day, I can be calm and rational. The answer looks so obvious when reviewing the recordings. No matter what comes out of this, how the Toronto Police respond, how Constable James Forcillo is dealt with, Sammy Yatim is dead.

When I wrote about the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida (my blog: What if George Zimmerman didn't have a gun?), I was reminded that I too was once a teenager. Admittedly, I have done some stupid stuff, sober and drunk. Don't all teenagers? But, for the grace of God, I never found myself facing somebody who was armed. I wonder how many people will philosophically say, "Shit happens.". Thank God it didn't happen to me.

Update: April 24, 2014

CBC News - Apr 24/2014
Sammy Yatim killing: Const. James Forcillo back at work with TPS
The police constable charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim aboard a streetcar last summer has returned to work with the Toronto Police Service, despite an ongoing inquiry into the case against him.

James Forcillo:
* seven month suspension with pay
* 'super restricted duties' that are administrative in nature
* no direct involvment with any investigations or any direct contact with the public
* does not have a firearm and does not wear a TPS uniform

Update: July 2014

CBC News - Jul 22/2014
Sammy Yatim killing: More officers should wear cameras, report says
Expanded use of cameras is one of 84 recommendations contained in the report written by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci and released Thursday. The report focuses on how police deal with emotionally disturbed and/or mentally disturbed individuals, a group Iacobucci calls "people in crisis."

The Toronto Star - Jul 25/2014
Family of Sammy Yatim files multimillion-dollar lawsuit
Toronto police showed “reckless disregard” for the life of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, and used excessive and unreasonable force against a young man suffering an “acute emotional disturbance” on the night of his death, family members of the shooting victim allege in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed earlier this year.


Published on Jul 30, 2013 by SuperColinTV
YouTube: Shooting of Sammy Yatim Security camera footage
From the corner store located just where the streetcar stopped

Published on Jul 27, 2013 by Markus Grupp
YouTube: [New video] Toronto Police shoot man on street car - Dundas & Bellwood
I shot the video above at 12:03am on Saturday July 27 from Bellwoods Avenue, just north of Dundas Street.

National Post - July 29/2013
Sammy Yatim’s final warning: New audio reveals officer’s hostile words before teen was shot dead by police by Josh Visser

Toronto Star - July 30/2013
Toronto police didn’t need to shoot Sammy Yatim: Editorial

Gobe and Mail - July 29/2013
A knife-wielding teenager and standard police training: Editorial

Evaluation of the New York City Police Department Firearm Training and Firearm-Discharge Review Process
RAND Corporation - 2008
Nationally, as it is in New York City, the use of any force is rare. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates that, in 2005, police used or threatened to use some force against a citizen in 1.6 percent of police-citizen contacts (Durose, Smith, and Langan, 2007, p. 1). Recent data for the NYPD shows the same general pattern as that reported by DOJ. In New York City, an analysis of the more than half a million stop, question, and frisk reports filed in 2006 shows that police pointed their weapons at suspects in about 0.5 percent of filed reports (Ridgeway, 2007).

NY Times - May 8/2008
11 Years of Police Gunfire, in Painstaking Detail By Al Baker
New York City police officers fire their weapons far less often than they did a decade ago, a statistic that has dropped along with the crime rate. But when they do fire, even at an armed suspect, there is often no one returning fire at the officers. Officers hit their targets roughly 34 percent of the time.

Wikipedia: Contagious shooting
A contagious shooting is a sociological phenomenon observed in military and police personnel in the United States, in which one person firing on a target can induce others to begin shooting. Often the subsequent shooters will not know why they are firing.

2013: In California, officers involved in the search for Christopher Dorner mistakenly fired at least 100 rounds at a truck occupied by three people, none of whom had any connection to the suspect.

New York City Police Department
2011 Annual Firearms Discharge Report
In 2011, the number of firearms discharge incidents involving members of the New York City Police Department remained unchanged from the previous year: 92 total incidents. As was true last year, this is the smallest number of firearms discharges since the recording of police shootings in the City began. While it must be acknowledged that the most serious category of discharges - shootings involving adversarial conflict with a subject - increased by 9 percent over last year’s record low, it is also true that experiencing 36 adversarial-conflict incidents during a year makes for a remarkably infrequent rate. In context, the rarity is even more apparent: in a city of 8.2 million people, from a Department of nearly 35,000 uniformed members who interacted with citizens in approximately 23 million instances, 62 officers were involved in 36 incidents of intentional firearms discharges during an adversarial conflict, with 19 subjects injured and nine killed. This is an impressive record of firearms control.

my blog: What if George Zimmerman didn't have a gun?
What happened on the night of February 26, 2012? I mean what really happened? Like you, I've read numerous newspaper articles. I've read the sometimes conflicting testimony. I've read the analysis. While the CSI television shows arrive at a conclusive ending, it would seem real life leaves many questions unanswered. My kingdom for a time machine.


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