G20 police action echoes in recent youth fatality

By Pat Watson Thursday August 08 2013 in Opinion
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The angst that the public is displaying in the aftermath of the police shooting and death of 17-year-old Sammy Yatim has some connection to a previous summer trauma. This shooting has triggered the upset that arose with the spectacle of police assaults and mass arrests during the economic summit held here in the summer of 2010, the so-called G20 Summit.


The police action against people exercising their right to peaceful protest here in Toronto has not been forgotten. Those wounds have not yet healed.


When actions against the general public leave them with a sense of being treated like the underclass, then expect upheaval. Among Blacks, there is little illusion about the way an element of the police force deals with our segment of the public.


Sammy Yatim is from a middle class family. His mother is reportedly a doctor. But, he was apparently struggling with emotional or mental illness. The video evidence of what happened to him on his last night of life created a visceral reaction.


A person with a gun is a danger to the rest of society. Now some of us may – as members of America’s National Rifle Association do – engage in the notion that guns can protect us from ‘the bad guys’. But more often than not, a gun in the hands of a human being is fatality and irreconcilable grief poised to happen. Ask any one of the family members of youth shot and killed either by police or by a peer.


Anyone who has ever held a gun knows the sense of power that weighty piece of machinery carries with it.


We already know what happens to people behind the wheel of a car. Personalities change almost instantly when they get inside one of those contraptions. Man and machine morph into some kind of power-driven amalgam.


Cars are not designed for the purpose of taking life. If we pay any attention to the commercials designed to create a desire for them, we get messages about their luxury and the freedom they provide. In a more mundane reality, they get us (hopefully) from point A to point B in one piece. But road rage, whether from ‘zero to 60’, is not uncommon on our highways and by-ways.


Cars are not weapons of mass destruction, nor are they meant to be. A gun is a different matter.


We would like to think of the police as ‘the good guys’, protecting us from our lower nature. These people are there to ‘uphold the law’. What law do they uphold, though, when they shoot with intent at persons with mental illness. Or persons whose skin colour is not like their own?


Who wants to hear how ‘traumatized’ an individual who is sworn to uphold the law is after he or she has made the choice to take a life, especially in a situation where there does not appear to be imminent danger to those in proximity? Let’s consider that trauma would be one form of retribution because this action is clearly a failure to uphold a greater spiritual law – the Sixth Commandment among the famous Ten Commandments – “Thou shall not kill”.


Perhaps the ‘trauma’ is from being recorded on video firing nine bullets into the body of a disturbed youth – a moment in time that will exist for all time, or for as long as the Internet does.


Perhaps after sorrow has abated there will be time for compassion for the shooter. Certainly, the mother of this latest police-shooting victim has taken a noble path in the face of a tragic loss.


People want to feel that they can trust those entrusted with protecting us from each other, but time and time again we have met with conflicts between those given that trust and those who wish to trust. Ironically, the police now have to contend with prejudice and with being negatively stereotyped as trigger-happy, needlessly aggressive and disrespectful to the public.


Black people are all too familiar with being stereotyped and prejudged. We know that such labels are substantially false, but the antisocial actions of a few are assigned to the rest of us. Now, it’s happening to the police.


A note on a troubled nation…


People are moving in their numbers out of landlocked Zimbabwe and taking refuge in South Africa. A minority may be benefiting from the 30-plus years of rule under ‘president-for-life’ Robert Mugabe, but the violation of humanity under his rule is now drawing comparisons to the grievous period under White-rule when the country was known as Rhodesia.


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