The story I am writing about is old news. It has gone past the initial incident and into the hands of the courts.
I am talking about the shooting of Sammy Yatim. [Fair warning: The link leads to a video of the shooting.]
For those who missed it, allow me to set the scene. Yatim is a knife-wielding teenager on a street car surrounded by police officers with pistols drawn, pointed at the aforementioned teenager. After repeated calls to drop the knife, Constable James Forcillo fired 9 shots at Yatim. 6 shots are reported to have been fired after Yatim had fallen to the ground.
I believe this fiasco should spark a deeper discussion about police training. Police constables are not simply given a utility belt and then thrown into the community. They are taught how to do their job, and part of the job is making split-second decisions to protect their own lives and those of the public.
Yatim pulled a knife in public, but did not harm anyone on the streetcar. This video shows the streetcar emptying, and there has been no news report of any passengers being harmed, so he was not feeling murderous. The video also does not show Yatim advancing on police officers. It did not appear that the teenager was a danger to anyone other than himself.
Because of that, I do not understand why the officer began to fire his pistol. It is possible that Yatim began moving toward the police officers in a threatening manner, but there was another officer standing next to Forcillo and he did not fire even after Forcillo had opened fire.
Clearly, something has gone wrong before the incident; some training was ineffective or Forcillo was the wrong man for the job. Shooting an individual who poses no danger to the public or officers-on-hand is a decision that defies logic.
Are police being trained to make sound decisions in the face of ambiguity? The rash of violent police actions across Canada and the United States says “no”.
Are recruits being screened for personality traits? A person who is comfortable and calm in a confrontation is one thing; one who goes looking for a fight is another.
There are many questions being asked, but I believe those two drive to a cause. Police around the world are tasked with a difficult job, so being 1) trained appropriately and 2) the right person for the job are critical to successful policing in the modern world.
To me, the worst part of this whole situation is that it is now impossible to tell why Yatim acted the way he did, and he cannot be helped. His potential is lost forever, and that is the greatest tragedy.
Justice for that loss is one thing; preventing tragedy in the future is another. The only way to prevent mistakes is to learn from them, so I hope that the right lessons are learned from this horrible situation, and that those lessons leads to necessary changes.