The brutal murder of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, a Syrian youth living in Toronto, by Toronto Police Services has left people across Toronto outraged. Sammy’s death is only the latest example of the sheer criminal violence perpetuated by the state apparatus on the most oppressed sectors of society.
The shooting occurred early on the night of 27 July on a TTC streetcar at the intersection of Bellwoods Ave. and Dundas St. in Toronto’s west end. Officers responded to a 911 call of a young man brandishing a knife inside the streetcar. After passengers fled the vehicle, Yatim was cornered in the empty streetcar by over 20 police officers when the cops opened fire. Surveillance video from a corner store shows Toronto police firing three shots, dropping the victim to the floor of the streetcar. The police then fired an additional six rounds at Sammy, who was already immobile on the ground. A number of cops then stormed onto the idle transit vehicle, tasering the bullet-ridden youth in what resembles an execution-style killing. Despite the fact that the victim was holding a knife, the video of the incident shows that the youth was not charging at the police when he was shot. This is one of many incidents which expose Toronto Police Services and their long history of brutality against youth, as well as those with mental illness.
This travesty of justice seems to be the straw that has broken the camel’s back. Since last Saturday’s tragedy, there has been an outpouring of support for the family and a mass condemnation of Toronto’s cops. A spontaneous demonstration that was held two days after the shooting brought out over 1,000 people, many of whom have experienced police harassment themselves. The energy of the rally was explosive and expressed itself when a mass of the protesters surrounded the headquarters of 52 Division, shaming the police for their actions. The mood of the crowd revealed the accumulation of anger as a result of the history of police brutality in our city and the lack of action against the police who patrol our streets and neighbourhoods with impunity.
The attitude of the ruling class is one where they would rather have the police gun down youth in crisis, or those with mental illness, than to properly fund services and resources to help them. This is not the first time this has occurred and these incidents will become more and more common as capitalism continues to put the crisis on the backs of the working class and students. Marginalized communities are routinely harassed and brutalized by the police force. The murders of Alwy, Reodica, DeBassige, Manon, and others are still fresh in our memory. The problem of the police in society goes beyond the individual cases of police brutality and harassment. Karl Marx explained that the police force is an element of the state and are not a neutral body watching over society; the police is a repressive force used to keep working-class people down and to preserve existing class society.
Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit is tasked with investigating and charging police officers who have committed criminal offences. In reality, however, they often serve to protect officers and rarely charge fellow police officers, let alone convict them. Up to 2012, out of 3,400 investigations conducted by the SIU, only 95 resulted in criminal charges; of this minuscule number, 16 of these cases actually resulted in conviction, and only three police officers serving jail time for their crimes. This means that under this capitalist system police are allowed to brutalize and harass marginalized communities and sectors of society without fear of accountability. It is a convenient system for police where a requirement to work in the special investigations unit includes having been a police officer yourself. The special investigations unit must be dismantled and the police put under genuine community control and management. Resources need to be provided so that communities can democratically provide their own security, with the assistance of the trade unions and other working-class organizations. Working-class communities will be far better equipped to manage outbursts of youth in crisis in a humane way rather than an outside violent body such as Toronto Police Services. In the final analysis, we need to fight for a socialist society where there is no outside armed body that uses violent means to control working-class communities.
The actions of the officer responsible for firing nine rounds of bullets into Sammy Yatim reveal the inability of the TPS to deal with youth or others in crisis. It is without a doubt that crimes such as Sammy’s murder will only increase in this age of capitalist crisis and austerity as governments look to make further cuts to education, social services, and care for those with disabilities. The crisis of capitalism has caused a situation where youth are more desperate than ever before. With Canadian youth unemployment rates double those of the overall average, it is near impossible for youth to find consistent and well-paying work. Tuition fees have more than doubled across Canada since the early 1990s and continue to rise making post-secondary education less and less accessible. This is especially frustrating because post-secondary education is essentially a prerequisite for almost any half-decent job in Canada these days. The average young person graduates with a $40,000 debt burden with little prospects of stable or well-paying jobs. This absurd debt load is untenable for many working-class youth, forcing them to reject post-secondary education and sentencing them to a marginal future. These conditions all lead to a climate of desperation for youth under capitalist society.
Services and programs which help youth in crisis and those with mental illness must be funded. At the same time, the conditions which force so many youth into disparity and hopelessness must be confronted, tuition fees must be abolished, and young people should be provided with well-paying and full-time work. However, it is impossible for these things to happen under capitalism. The perspectives for crisis in Canada means austerity is being pushed onto the working class and that limited social services which protect vulnerable youth and adults are being gutted even further. The continuation of the capitalism system will mean no end to the brutalizing of our communities and the murdering of our youth at the hands of the police force. Only a socialist society run under a planned economy can provide for the youth of our generation. We must fight for a socialism as a means to this end.
Justice for Sammy!