The verdict in the case against Toronto police officer James Forcillo was handed down yesterday. Guilty, of attempted murder. It’s a verdict that has Canadians talking, mostly because they agree that while they are satisfied with a guilty verdict, they are not satisfied with the “attempted murder” verdict. Most Canadians feel that Forcillo should have been found guilty of 2nd degree murder.
There are some of course who seem to think it ridiculous that Forcillo was charged at all, but those people usually have some ties to law enforcement and are thinking with a “thin blue line” mentality. They do not believe that any cop should come under fire for drawing and using his weapon on the job. They are the people who believe our cops are above the law, or are at least privileged enough that they can do no wrong while on duty, and they are wrong. Police officers have to be held accountable for their actions, they have to be willing to own the choices they make, and to be punished according to law when they cross the line.
There are people who will tell you that Sammy Yatim deserved to die for disobeying an order from a police officer, but that is untrue. No one DESERVES to die, and what’s more, we do not give our cops license to be judge jury and executioner, that isn’t their job. Police officers are there to protect the population from harm, and take criminals off the streets to prevent them from committing further criminal acts. While from time to time that job does involve drawing their weapon, gunplay is usually the exception and not the rule.
For Officer James Forcillo however, drawing his gun seemed to be his go to move. Constable James Forcillo’s reliance on his firearm brought him to the attention of a Toronto Police early warning system the year before he fatally shot Sammy Yatim on a downtown streetcar. Forcillo testified at that review that he pulled his weapon about 12 times in three-and-a-half years on the job.
The “early intervention” process, as it’s called, is aimed at identifying officers who, “may be at risk of entering the disciplinary process.”
An officer who points his Glock .40 calibre semi-automatic gun at a person three times within a rolling 12-month period is the trigger for the early warning system to kick in and issue an alert. At the time of the alert, the 32-year-old Forcillo was working in the downtown 14 Division for almost three years. It’s unclear what happened after the alert was issued late in 2012. What is clear however is that Forcillo had an existing history of pulling his weapon inappropriately. He was a cop with an itchy trigger finger.
That said, it comes as no surprise that on that fateful day in 2013 when Officer Forcillo encountered a confused and mentally unstable Sammy Yatim on a downtown streetcar his first action was to pull his weapon. After all Forcillo was known to have an unusual reliance on his service weapon when confronting suspects. What is surprising is the fact that even after Forcillo pumped at least three bullets into the body of Sammy Yatim and Yatim lay dying on the floor of the streetcar Forcillo kept firing, and no one stopped him.
Was Forcillo justified in drawing his weapon that day? Apparently the jury thought so, but there are many Canadians who do not agree. There are many Canadians who think that drawing a weapon on Yatim was NOT justified, that the situation could have been handled differently, and should have been. There are many who feel that Yatim was a danger to himself only, and besides that, officers never got close enough to Yatim for him to present any real threat to their safety.
The shooting of Sammy Yatim calls into question the way in which police officers handle calls involving those with possible mental illnesses. No one tried to understand Sammy Yatim’s distress that day on that empty streetcar. He had hurt no one, yet was showing obvious signs of mental distress, but no one tried to talk him down and take him into custody peacefully, instead Forcillo chose to draw his weapon and start shooting.
Here we are, celebrating Bell’s annual “Let’s Talk” campaign. A campaign designed to get people talking about mental illness, so how is it, we’re not talking about Sammy Yatim, and how police handle run ins with mentally unstable Canadians? Shouldn’t that be a part of our dialogue? Something needs to change, or there will be many more Sammy Yatims in our future.