Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Not again... please, never again.

So, Norm – nothing to say about Sammy Yatim?
Lots to say about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but how come no word on the police gunning down a teenager armed only with a 3 inch blade knife?

That’s one of the emails that I’ve received in the past day or so.

Allow me to answer and the other similar notes…
I haven’t responded thus far because:

1.      This just happened; it’s not the conclusion of lengthy trial in which evidence has been presented and examined.
2.      I am still in shock… painful, heart-numbing shock… and I don’t know what to say.

18 year olds are not supposed to die.

Not like that… really, not at all.

Like many people, I have watched the video of the shooting and I think that I know the following:
Sammy Yatim was on a streetcar armed with a knife about the size of kitchen paring knife.
(I note that knives can be sharp and dangerous at any length.)

There were several police officers on the scene.

Sammy was uncooperative.

Several shots were fired.

Sammy appears to have been tasered after being shot.

He died as a result of his wounds.

He was 18 years old

That’s all that I think I know.

I find it hard to imagine how an investigation will add insight to what I have witnessed…  but maybe there is evidence yet to be revealed that will need to be considered as we try to find justice.  Regardless of what we find, I am hoping that we don’t make a scapegoat out of one or more police officers.  

Why not??  They shot him even though they were in no imminent danger; an officer tasered him after he had been shot!!

I know… and, as I said above, I can’t imagine any mitigating factors that would make such actions excusable.  However, I don’t want to be able to pin this on a bad guy or a couple of bad guys, file it and walk away.

It’s too tragic and too important an event to treat simply and solve by blaming somebody.

When we blame somebody, we allow ourselves off the hook.  We can talk about a couple of bad police officers instead of looking at how we encounter and confront anti-social behaviour.  We can talk about angry youth instead of talking about mental health.  We can campaign for more cops; less cops… and not wonder about spending more money on mental health initiatives and support for people battling depression, bipolar disease; we don’t to spend more money on helping Autistic men and women engage fully and safely in society.

I’m not saying that Sammy Yatin is autistic.  I have no idea.
I’m not saying that Sammy was suffering from mental illness – again, I don’t know enough and I’m not a diagnostician… but I’m pretty sure that had our police (and they are ours) been better equipped to handle people presenting with behaviours associated with mental health issues; had we stricter protocols in place for dealing with those outside the “norm” they may have been able to find an alternative to shooting and killing an 18 year old.

I hurt for Sammy’s family. I mourn with them.
I also hurt for my friends who watched that video and thought, “That could have been my child…”  Because I have several friends who fit into that group.

I never met Sammy Yatin, but boy, was he familiar.
I have met several young men and women struggling  with depression and mental health issues; young men who are fine one minute and the next are aggressive, suicidal, belligerent or just plain uncooperative.  I don’t want to see another one shot.

I have friends who are autistic – fine people who bring insight, joy and friendship to my life, but from time to time present behaviours that are hard to understand and frustrating to engage.  I don’t want them to be shot in the midst of a bad time.

I have known young men and women who have been diagnosed with mental health issues and seem some of them get better with time, therapy, medication, life style modification… seen some of them did not get “better”, but still found a way to function in society and find joy in their lives…  and I don’t want them to be shot before they have that chance.

I have seen parents struggle trying to care for children diagnosed with mental disorders; I have seen them struggle alone because nobody wants to talk about or hear about depression and mental health deficits.  (Tell ‘em to cheer up, get out of bed and get a job!  If you were a better parent, you’d push them harder).

Sammy’s age was significant to me because I have also seen parents despair when the government and institutional support runs out as children hit 18 and become adults.

You see, I want to talk about all of these things.  I want to talk about autism, mental health, anti-social genius, creative disconnect and all sorts of issues that describe those who do not fit into our “normal” way of life and I’m worried that if we find a “bad guy”, we’re going to put off having these discussions and more of our children, young adults, neighbours, parents, brothers and sisters are going to die in a hail of mis-directed bullets. 


  1. I am awaiting the investigation by Internal Affairs, before making comment. He was asked repeatedly to put the knife down. I feel sick that he was 18, but am reserving judgement until the investigation is complete. I feel we judge police without all the facts, and put them at risk, when they are doing their job to protect us. I do not feel that this case is comparable to others recently in the news. Gail Weller Clark

  2. I don't think there is a need to wait to comment on this - it clearly calls for discussion of many issues that badly need discusion. This takes nothing away from the many dedicated police officers who spend their lives keeping us safe. They must also wish that they had more skills and services available to help them when 18 year old children become violent. I can't imagine there are any police officers out there who think this was a good outcome, regardless of what may or may not have happened. The discusison being called for and any changes that could come from that discusison will only help police officers and in turn make our society a safer place for all of us. Thanks Norm!

  3. I posted this repsonse on Facebook, but felt it should be included here. A variety of comments, opinions and passions from my friends. Thank you for that. Like many of you, I don't want to lose faith in the police and so part of me holds on to the hope that we can somehow explain what happened... Like others, I am so incensed I want to vent my pain and anger on someone or someones... As I mentioned in the blog, I am hoping that we get to have a larger discussion about those in society who don't always fit the "norm". I have sat in my office speaking with young men who could easily have been Sammy... I've seen their behaviour become anti-social and belligerent...I have also seen those same kids resolve their behaviours before my eyes; get better with care; improve with medication... I also have friends diagnosed as autistic who could exhibit behaviours that could be interpreted as threatening or "wacky", but who are not a serious danger to anyone. I seen my own diabetic son exhibit anti-social, even threatening, behaviour when his blood sugar dropped dramatically due to a miscalculated insulin injection. Sammy didn't get the chance to be diagnosed, get better or be understood... and that's a tragedy. The lack of support for young people and adults who live outside the "norm" - from the government funding, to communities willing to talk and engage - is tragic. I'm not blaming any individual at this point, I am hoping for a wide community response.. we can do better. That could have been my son.