Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Canada:Family of dead teen Sammy Yatim stunned and baffled by police shooting

Devastated family and friends are seeking answers after the 18-year-old was shot dead on a Dundas streetcar early Saturday.

The Toronto police shooting of an 18-year-old wielding a knife on an empty streetcar has left a family devastated and renewed questions about police procedure in “crisis” situations.

Sammy Yatim died of a gunshot wound in hospital after officers fired at least nine shots into the streetcar early Saturday. New witness video shows Yatim standing alone near the front of the TTC vehicle, brandishing a small knife, before police open fire.

Now, his family and community are demanding answers about why officers felt the lone teenager posed such a threat. A vigil will be held at the scene Monday evening to protest police violence.

“We are in very, very difficult times,” said Yatim’s father, Nabil, his eyes bloodshot. “He was an average kid, loved by his friends. Now, you have totally different versions coming out.”

· Police Chief Blair comments on streetcar shooting

· Family of Sammy Yatim stunned and baffled by police shooting

The Special Investigation Unit is probing the shooting, which took place Saturday just after midnight on a Dundas streetcar near Grace St. Witnesses said Yatim held up a three-inch knife and ordered everyone off the car.

In the witness video, Yatim can be seen standing near the front of the car as police shout, “Drop your weapon!” and “Don’t move!” When Yatim appears to move, officers fire three shots. After several seconds, officers fire six additional shots.

Officers can still be heard yelling, “Drop the knife!” after the shots are fired. About 20 seconds later, an officer climbs up the streetcar stairs and the sound of a Taser can be heard.

The teenager was rushed with a gunshot wound to St. Michael’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

As the SIU remained silent on Sunday, family and friends tried desperately to make sense of the incident. The teen’s uncle, Mejad “Jim” Yatim, said his nephew had been adjusting to Canadian life after emigrating from Syria five years ago.

“Sammy seemed to be flourishing in Canada,” he wrote in an email to the Star. “I have to admit, he tried to fit in with his friends. He wore hoodies and wore his pants lower than his father would stomach.”

Yatim’s father has lived in Canada since 1968, but his wife and children lived in Syria until the parents divorced five years ago, according to the uncle. Sammy and his sister Sarah, now 16, moved to Toronto to live with their father.

“Sammy used to spend the summers with his mom in Syria until the situation became so dangerous,” he said.

But he said Yatim, who worked at a Sheppard Ave. McDonalds until about six months ago, had never shown signs of mental illness or violence. A bus driver once lodged a complaint against him for having an “attitude,” he said.

· Sammy Yatim the latest in a long line of Toronto police shootings

“Since when did it become a crime to be a teenager, I ask you?” he said. “And since when does a scrawny 110-pound-something teenager become a threat to a dozen or so brawny policemen, when he is isolated in an empty streetcar that they felt that they had no other choice but to use lethal force?”

Toronto Police are facing intense criticism for the shooting on social media, where outrage has exploded among friends and strangers alike.

A makeshift memorial has already sprung up at the scene, and an “emergency vigil” will be held at Dundas St. and Bellwoods Ave. at 6:30 p.m. Monday, to “demand justice for Sammy and an end to police violence,” according to a Facebook event. Former federal Liberal MP John Nunziata stated on the vigil’s Facebook page, “I am sickened by the actions of the police. I will offer my legal services to ensure that justice is done.”

Councillor Janet Davis said Yatim’s death raises serious questions about police procedures during crises. After the police shooting of 29-year-old Michael Eligon in her Beaches-East York ward last year, she lobbied for additional resources and training for police to deal with the mentally ill.

“It looks as though this young man was shot when he was alone in the streetcar and surrounded by police officers. Was there nothing else that could be done to save his life?” she asked.

Media attempted Sunday to dispel some of the mysteries surrounding the incident. Global spoke to a traveller on the streetcar stating that Yatim had been exposing himself; CTV reported Sunday that Yatim had recently moved out of his father’s home and into an apartment.

Yatim’s father was away on business and returned to Toronto early Saturday morning after learning of his son’s death. His mother and several extended family members are believed to still live in Syria.

On the quiet street where Yatim lived, near Sheppard Ave. and Highway 404, close neighbours were gripped by grief. One resident burst into tears as she recalled how Yatim dutifully helped clean up branches and leaves from her lawn.

Dorsa Bayrami, who met Yatim three years ago through a family friend, said all his friends were in shock.

“He was the sweetest guy, very loving and kind-hearted. If he saw you down about something, he’d come to help you out, ask you why you’re sad and make you laugh,” she said.

Yatim just graduated from Brébeuf College, an all-boy Catholic high school in North York, in June and intended to go to college in the fall, said Bayrami.

“He adjusted well in Canada,” she said. “If there’s anyone causing harm, Sammy was always the one stopping it. Why would they shoot him?”

According to one eyewitness, before police arrived, the streetcar operator was standing behind the controls while Yatim was sitting at the front of the car.

“We saw a gentleman in the front right seat, which I took to be the victim. The operator was kind of hunched over the controls, standing . . . All of a sudden, the operator jumps out and the guy sitting in front stands up, holding a knife against his chest,” said the witness, Markus Grupp.

Within seconds, police surrounded the streetcar, and Grupp started shooting video on his iPhone. Soon thereafter, he heard gunshots.

“It was almost surreal,” he said. “I’ve played it all in my head about 100 times today.”

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said the streetcar’s security video will not be released, as is policy.

As Yatim’s family waits for answers, his uncle says that the “shock has not set in yet.”

“My brother says, ‘All I want to do is bury my son.’ And I say I am my brother’s keeper,” he said. “It is a tragedy for our family.”

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Respect for the truth is almost the basis of all morality.
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