TORONTO - At Old City Hall comes the only decision that could satisfy this city.
Following a preliminary hearing, a judge has committed Const. James Forcillo to stand trial for second-degree murder in the troubling shooting of teen Sammy Yatim last July on an empty Dundas St. streetcar.
The flurry of bullets that struck the knife-wielding 18-year-old still echo to this day.
Bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang after bang. Nine shots fired at a skinny kid standing at the streetcar doors with a puny blade that glinted in the headlights of a cavalry of police cars that had arrived on the scene.
His death didn’t make sense. Not then, and not a year later. But our myriad of questions stand a better chance of being answered now with a trial slated to go ahead sometime in 2015.
The officer’s prelim was originally scheduled to continue until Friday, but Justice Richard LeDressay — an Oakville-area judge purposely brought in from outside Toronto to ensure there was no question of bias — had obviously heard enough and ruled Tuesday that there is enough evidence to send Forcillo to trial.
What that evidence is remains sealed under a publication ban. And yet we have seen so much of it already thanks to the horrifying citizen cellphone videos that captured the shooting in the early hours of last July 27.
The streetcar, its passengers having fled minutes earlier, stands stopped near Trinity Bellwoods Park. “Drop the knife, drop the knife,” the officers can be heard demanding as some stand with guns drawn and pointed at the lone man inside.
Yatim can be seen through the streetcar window in a baseball cap, black T-shirt and white pants. Police sirens fill the background. Then just forty-one seconds into the video posted on YouTube, the bullets fly. Three shots at first. A six second pause and then six more shots follow.
The sheer volume of bullets is impossible to comprehend. As is what happens next. Even as the young man lay crumpled on the floor of the streetcar, with little doubt that he must have died in such a hail of bullets, the sound of a Taser can be heard as well.
The shocking video has been seen almost one million times.
And there are still others. In CCTV footage posted online from a nearby convenience store, the teen is seen pacing back and forth inside the streetcar before he stops at the door. As the police shout at Yatim to drop the knife, he responds: “You’re a f---ing p----, you’re a f---ing p----.”
Seconds later, he is dead.
And in yet another disturbing YouTube video, Yatim’s legs can be seen twitching as his prone body is hit by bullet after bullet.
The most staunch police defender could not be anything but troubled by what is depicted on these tapes — there was no apparent effort by the police at de-escalation, no calm effort to talk him down or to attempt any other approach to avert the senseless tragedy that unfolded. Was the Taser on the way? Why didn’t police wait for the sergeant who could operate the stun gun when there didn’t appear to be any immediate threat of danger?
Instead, it looked like an execution.
But these viral videos are not the whole story, of course. There were eyewitnesses on the streetcar who will detail what led up to this deadly encounter. There is critical footage from inside the TTC car itself that we have not seen. There is testimony from Forcillo himself and his fellow officers.
When the preliminary hearing first began in April, Forcillo’s lawyer, Peter Brauti, warned that there is much more to what happened that summer night than we know. He predicted that the “frightening” evidence will eventually change many minds.
Perhaps — but now that will be for a jury of his peers to decide. And for the health of this city, that is a good thing.
Because nothing short of an exhaustive trial on these second-degree murder charges will satisfy a public still sickened and outraged by what happened to a kid on an empty streetcar, surrounded by police, almost one year ago.
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