Sammy Yatim moved to Toronto five years ago along with his sister, to live with their father and escape the escalating danger in Syria that would become the current civil war, in which average citizens are being slaughtered daily.
But on July 26, the 18-year-old was killed, outnumbered and gunned down by police officers after he refused to drop a knife on an empty streetcar. Friends and family are shattered, and hundreds of people filled Toronto’s streets on Monday in a protest march and vigil.
“We are in very, very difficult times,” Yatim’s father, Nabil, told The Star. “He was an average kid, loved by his friends. Now, you have totally different versions coming out.”
The drama aboard the 505 streetcar began unfolding late Friday night, just before midnight Saturday. According to witnesses, he was holding a knife. Police were summoned, with at least half a dozen converging on the stopped, now-empty streetcar. Witness videos caught the voices of police yelling, “Drop the knife!” while a fainter voice could be heard saying, “He’s the only one in the car.”
The car was indeed empty, but the cops start shooting. They fired nine shots, CTV News reported. Then one boards the car, and the sound of a Tazer can be heard.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he wanted answers as well, having viewed the video footage taken by witnesses and posted on social media.
“I am aware of the very serious concerns the public has," Blair told CTV News. "I know that people are seeking answers as to what occurred, why it happened and if anything could have been done to prevent the tragic death of this young man. I am also seeking answers to these important questions."
It was sadly reminicent of the shooting of Native woodcarver John T. Williams in Seattle in 2011. Walking across the street, he was holding a knife, but not near any people. Police told him to drop it, but the hard-of-hearing 50-year-old did not respond. A police officer opened fire.
Be it an 18-year-old Yatim, a 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or a host of others judged on the slightest perceived aberration and issued the death penalty, it was yet another example of how vulnerable the non-white population can be.
Blair said the provincial Special Investigations Unit would conduct a full, objective evaluation, and offered condolences.
"As a father, I can only imagine their terrible grief and their need for answers," he said of the family.