As of December 1st, police have killed 1033 people in the USA this year according to The Counted, a project by the Guardian to track the number of people killed by police in the USA.
California led the States with the highest number of people killed by police. The top five States are:
- California – 186 killed
- Texas – 102 killed
- Florida – 66 killed
- Arizona – 39 killed
- Georgia – 36 killed
According to the website, 2.5 times as many black people than white people are killed per capita. The following is the rate per million:
- Black: 6.25
- Native American: 3.40
- Hispanic: 3.05
- White: 2.61
- Asian/Pacific Islander: 1.01
The vast majority of the killings are by way of gunshot, with the occasional taser electrocution related death, and death while in custody.
Canada has historically taken a different approach to policing than the USA. There are fewer police shootings, and fewer people killed by police generally. Wikipedia contains an incomplete list of police killings in Canada.
However, police killings do occur in Canada. Currently, Officer James Forcillo has been charged with Murder in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, and young man brandishing a knife on an empty street car. Officer Forcillo fired 8 bullets at Sammy Yatim. He testified that he believed that Yatim was going to charge at him with the knife.
The issue at trial is whether the Officer’s use of deadly force was justified. As a citizen, I’m going to be watching very carefully. The outcome of this case will contribute to the rules about when the government/police is justified to kill you or your family. The outcomes of cases like these shape policy and procedure for police engaged in stand-offs of this nature.
Was Mr. Yatim’s death was avoidable?
The officers had Mr. Yatim contained within the street car. They outnumbered him, and had officers securing a perimeter to keep the public safe. The officers could simply have waited a few minutes for Mr. Yatim to calm down. The officers could have used an electrocution device like a Tazer to control the situation. It should also be noted that Officer Forcillo was not alone. There were multiple officers at the scene when the shooting took place for containment if Mr. Yatim tried to exit the street car, which the video shows he did not.
It would not be reasonable for Officer Forcillo to deny that shooting a person 8 times could kill them. It would also be unreasonable for Officer Forcillo to claim that by shooting someone 8 times, his intention was anything other than to either kill or cause injuries that were likely to kill. He might say that his motive was to protect himself, but his brain told his hand to pull the trigger 8 times knowing that by pulling the trigger his weapon would discharge bullets, that his gun was pointed at a person, and that the bullets would be discharged at that person. He intended to shoot another person 8 times. Any reasonable person knows that shooting someone 8 times will likely kill them.
Murder is proved when the Crown shows that the accused caused another person’s death, and that the accused meant to cause them death, or bodily harm that that they know is likely to cause the victim’s death, and is reckless whether death ensues. Officer Forcillo clearly killed Mr. Yatim by shooting him. He also clearly intended to shoot Mr. Yatim, which any reasonable person knows could be deadly.
Officer Forcillo committed a homicide. The only question is whether he has a legal defence.
I will be watching the outcome of this case closely. The video is on the internet and can be viewed by Canadians so the public has a chance to form their own opinion about what transpired the night Mr. Yatim was shot. The public will also have a chance to hear from Officer Forcillo, and ultimately the justice system about it’s findings with respect to Officer Forcillo’s guilt. It will be the reconciliation of the two that either promotes or erodes confidence in the justice system.