Last night, nearly a thousand people marched in honour of Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old who was gunned down by the Toronto Police Saturday morning on an emptied streetcar. The crowd rotated through multiple, impassioned chants like: "No Justice, No Peace!" "Justice for Sammy!" and "Fuck the Police!"
There were hundreds of people Sammy’s age who had come out to show their support. They organized chants, made posters, and screamed in the faces of on duty police officers. Neighbours along Dundas Street W, where the rally was taking place, stood on their stoops taking pictures of the massive crowd as it passed.
The rally began in Dundas Square shortly after 5PM, and marched to where the shooting occurred. A chalk body outline was drawn on the ground and candles were lit, while Sammy’s mother and sister held each other and wept.
Police led the way, as they always do when there's a public demonstration. In this instance, however, it was a surreal juxtaposition between the cops and the crowd, because the rally was basically an anti-police protest. People held signs in their faces that said “Stop Killer Cops,” and others continued to shout: “Fuck The Police,” into loudspeakers while standing just a couple feet away from uniformed officers.
One man held up a sign that listed victims of police brutality who had been killed in Toronto since 1988. Sammy’s name was at the top. Meanwhile in Vancouver, the first mountie charged with perjury over the death of polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, at Vancouver National Airport in 2007, was being found not guilty.
“We are the new generation and we are not going to take this. We have the power to change what is going on,” shouted a young girl from a loudspeaker shortly after a vigil was held at the scene of the shooting. The crowd responded with a wild "Yeah!"
I spoke with Jamal Francis, a 24-year-old student from Toronto, who summed up a feeling many in the crowd were experiencing: “It could have been my cousin or my friend. It makes me scared. It’s crazy what has happened and really amazing that so many people came out to support Sammy. I’m so mad this happened. Police abuse their power and it has to be stopped.”
The march ended outside of the Toronto Police’s 14 Division station—the divison who sent out the officer that ultimately killed Sammy—a couple of blocks away from the crime scene.
“For me, the saddest thing is that he came from Syria five years ago to get away from a tumultuous country. To flee genocide. Only to end up here in Canada and to get shot by police. Canadians pretend we’re morally superior, but clearly we’re not,” said Samira Sayed-Rahman a 22-year-old grad student.
“I have an issue with how it was dealt with. I’ve watched the video repeatedly, there was no one trying to talk to this kid and that’s wrong. This is a symptom of aggressive power,” said Caroline Shaheed. “This is not a war zone. It’s downtown Toronto.”
As Shaheed said this, protestors continued to shout at police who had formed a human wall outside their division. Beside her, people were writing “RIP SAMMY” in chalk on the walls of the station. A shirt with fake blood all over it, as if it had been worn by someone who was shot nine times, was making its way through the crowd. Others chanted "Cops, Pigs, Murderers!" And a few people yelled at the stone-faced cops blocking the station's entrance to: "Make a statement!" But of course, they remained silent.
While the Special Investigations Unit does what they do, Torontonians (and by now, much of Canada) are likely to grow more angry while waiting for answers that might not come for a long time. The SIU is not known for being speedy.
In the meantime, there is a Facebook page people can visit to show support and the next rally is set for August 13th at 1p.m. at Toronto Police Headquarters.