The headline of the National Post article describing the incident is: “Toronto police criticized for shooting of ‘cornered’ man brandishing a knife on an empty streetcar.” An “emergency vigil march” was held. Reported in the Post:
‘Sensing the significant and growing anger of the public over the police shooting of Yatim, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair promised there would be answers for what occurred and offered his condolences to the family.
“As a father I can only imagine their terrible grief and their need for answers,” he said.’
When the cops shoot somebody, my ideology draws me in two directions simultaneously. The law-and-order Me stands by the police. The libertarian Me says, wait a minute. Isn’t this just Big Government running amok?
To find out which view should dominate in this case, let’s examine it more closely:
‘The video, shot from at least 10 metres away, shows police surrounding the front door of the streetcar while a solitary figure, wearing white pants, a dark short-sleeve shirt and a ball hat, holds a small object in his hand, near the driver’s seat.
Police can be heard yelling, “Drop the knife! Do it now!”
A muffled voice can be heard repeatedly saying, “You’re a p—-. You’re a f—– p—-,” although it is not clear who is saying it and who it is directed towards.
“If you take one step in this direction . . .,” a male police officer can be heard before his voice becomes muffled in the video. Ross McLean, a former Toronto police officer, told CBC’s Metro Morning he thought the officer said “and you’re finished.”’
Police can be heard saying, “Don’t move,” and the man on the streetcar moves in the direction of police, who are several metres away from the entrance, and three shots are fired. The video is slightly obscured but it does not appear the man made it to the streetcar’s front steps.”
‘After a pause of about five seconds, an additional six shots are fired in quick succession. The man is no longer visible in the video. At least 10 police officers can be seen in the video at this time.
Police can still be heard yelling, “Drop the knife,” after the shots are fired.’
One of the censored words is “pussy”. You can guess the other. Add to this the following facts:
1. In close quarters, a knife is as deadly as a gun. Those unfamiliar with firearms don’t understand this. They think: gun trumps knife. In reality, the principal advantage of a gun is that it is a distance weapon. This advantage evaporates at close quarters.
2. At a distance of 7 yards, it takes only two seconds for an assailant to close the gap to be on top of you, as Matt Gurney pointed out.
3. In this incident, the perp was moving towards the cops, and not backing away from them, much less giving up.
4. One hit from a pistol-caliber firearm is often not enough to stop somebody. The history of gunfights is replete with incidents where numerous hits were required to end the fight.
5. Supporters of Sammy Yatim are making a big deal of his age – 18, I guess trying to equate youth with innocence. In fact, young males 14 to 25 are responsible for the vast majority of all violent crime.
From these considerations, while the number of shots fired by the police may have been excessive, I conclude that my law and order side is right this time.
In assessing police incidents, one factor to consider is the suspect’s nature. Is he a predatory criminal, or is he an otherwise good citizen having a bad day (or simply caught up in bureaucratic stupidity)? I am a firm believer in the adage that laws have to be interpreted with common sense. No matter how well the rules are written, if they are applied inflexibly, without regard to circumstance, tyranny is the result.
An example of this not being done was the fatal tasering a couple of years back of a Polish visitor at the Vancouver airport. The Mounties were called to deal with a drunk and disorderly air traveller. He was obnoxious but he wasn’t Tony Montana. The cops had more than enough muscle-power at their disposal to subdue him manually and take him to the drunk tank; there were four Mounties, including one who was huge. The Pole had no prior criminal record and was unarmed.
In the TTC incident, the suspect’s relatives and friends want to make the case that he too was a good citizen who had merely erred. Perhaps, but considering the fact that he had commandeered a streetcar with a deadly weapon, and then failed to surrender to the police when they arrived on scene, the burden of proof is on them to make that case.
Oh yes, one more possibly related thought: whenever the police shoot a dangerous criminal, consider how much money the cops just saved the taxpayers: court costs, legal defence costs, annual imprisonment costs, to say nothing of the property damage and mayhem the individual would have caused in the remainder of his lifetime. Even factoring in the expenses of the inevitable investigations a police shooting triggers, the taxpayer must come out far ahead.