Editorial: Change policies, inquests will not stop police shootings

We’ve seen the protests calling for all sorts of inquiries into the shooting death of 18 year-old Sammy Yatim, including one on Monday.

But the truth is, we do not believe an inquiry into this matter will save any lives in the future. Why? Because we’ve seen so many inquiries into different matters before in this city, and in most cases, the recommendations that result from such inquiries are never implemented.

We think that the onus here must be on the police leadership to show initiative and reform the policies of the police forces in this province on how to deal with mentally disturbed people.

Yatim likely would have been alive today had such reforms been implemented after the death of Tommy Barnett in 1996. Barnett, a Jamaican immigrant, was shot four times in the chest while wielding a sword on Bathurst Street. Clearly disturbed, Barnett posed no immediate threat to the public, as he was walking in the middle of the street in the wee hours of the morning, yet instead of attempting to “talk him down”, Tommy was taken down by four bullets.

The officer who shot Barnett was cleared by the Special investigations Unit (SIU) of any wrongdoing, because he acted within the framework of his training. The training then, as it is now, says shoot the body mass when in danger. In other words, shoot to kill.

One year later, in 1997, in eerily similar circumstances to Yatim’s, Edmond Yu was found with a hammer on a TTC bus. He posed no threat to anyone, as the bus was empty, yet he was shot five times. There was, apparently, no effort to “talk him down”, and no effort to contain the situation through the use of non-deadly force. Again, the officer involved was cleared because, like in the Barnett case, he was following his training.

Why, then, in 2013, fifteen years later, should we expect a different result from any inquest into Sammy Yatim’s case?

The problem here is not finding out why Yatim was shot. Like Barnett and Yu, the police officer involved was doing what he was trained to do. The problem is the police training, and the policies of the force regarding how officers should act when confronting obviously mentally disturbed people.

So what has to change are the policies regarding training, and we don’t need an inquiry to tell us that, especially since the chances are any recommendations from such an inquiry will gather dust on a shelf.

That’s why we say the police leadership must do what they must to change things. And if they don’t, then tell us who’s blocking it.

It’s the only way to win back the public’s trust.