Five young women who appeared to be teenagers burst into the Yonge and Dundas square. Dressed all in black and holding megaphones, they chanted, “Justice for Sammy, justice for Sammy, justice for Sammy.”
This refrain uttered at the start of a vigil for Sammy Yatim stuck all the way throughout the rally down Dundas Street West to the spot where Mr. Yatim, 18, was fatally shot multiple times by police, and then tasered, on Saturday.
“We don’t think the way Sammy died is right and justified in any way. I am, was, one of Sammy’s close friends,” said Anita, one of the girls with the loudspeaker and a close friend of Mr. Yatim’s who did not want to give her last name. “The way he died is so unjustified. It’s unexplainable. They [the police] should have been much more rational.”
It is not clear exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the shooting on Saturday just after midnight. Witnesses say that Mr. Yatim, a knife collector, brandished a knife on a Dundas streetcar at Bellwoods Avenue and exposed himself. Everybody rushed out of the streetcar leaving him behind on the vehicle. In a witness video of the police surrounding the streetcar, nine shots are fired after which police can be seen and heard going in to taser Mr. Yatim.
Grieving relatives and about a thousand protesters joined the vigil at the square. Nonie Wall, 49, came with her daughter-in-law. Mr. Yatim, Ms. Wall’s son’s friend, had been staying with the women near Main Street and Danforth Avenue. He had been “down” on his luck in the last two weeks or so, said the women.
“He was like my son,” said Ms. Wall as tears flowed down her cheeks. “He was so innocent. I can’t get him out of my eyes. I hate cops at this moment. He didn’t have to go the way he did.”
Ms. Wall said Mr. Yatim loved her three grandchildren and that he would never hurt anybody.
Protesters brought white T-shirts to the vigil that said, “Protect us from our protectors” with a picture of Mr. Yatim below these words.
Mr. Yatim’s mother, Sahar Bahadi, who had been in Montreal at the time of the shooting, donned the t-shirt over her own black clothing. Standing in the middle of the Yonge and Dundas intersection, she seemed oblivious and overwhelmed, at the same time, by the chants for justice around her. Her fingers traced the image of her son’s face on her T-shirt and Ms. Bahadi, a pediatrician, began to sob loudly.
Mr. Yatim’s father, who has weak legs, did not have the emotional or physical strength to make it to the vigil, said Joseph Nazar, a family friend.
The march was supposed to end four kilometres away at 14 Division, the Toronto police division that responded to reports of a man with a knife on the streetcar. But with a kilometre left to go, Ms. Bahadi, said she could not go on and wanted to turn back.
“I want my son, I want my son. I want to hold him,” she cried as relatives held her and offered her water to drink.
The breakdown followed several minutes of silence around candles placed in between the westbound streetcar tracks at Dundas Street and Bellwoods Avenue – the location where police fired nine shots into a streetcar occupied only by Mr. Yatim. Ms. Bahadi and other relatives had been sitting on the ground around the candles and an imprint of a hand that somebody had spray-painted in red. When she got up, she wept loudly and said she had to leave the rally.
Some confusion ensued as Mr. Yatim’s younger sister, Sarah Ann Yatim, wanted to continue the march all the way to the end. Eventually, the family left the rally. Most of the protesters stayed at the intersection writing messages in chalk around the candles decrying the actions of police.
As the march made its way down Dundas Street, it was evident that there was some friction between Mr. Yatim’s relatives and protesters. There were strong anti-police sentiments amongst the protestors who booed at the police officers holding traffic back. They chanted:
“Shame, shame on you.”
“No more guns.”
“Use pepper spray.”
Some people even called for the death of the police officer who shot Mr. Yatim.
These attitudes clearly upset the Yatim family. Sarah Ann Yatim was compelled to grab a loudspeaker, step in front of the crowd and say, “We are not against the police.”
Ms. Yatim declined an interview. She did not make a speech either at the rally, but she has been posting angry messages against the police on Twitter.
“Don’t worry bro, I got your back revenge soon,” she tweeted on the morning after the shooting.
A memorial will be held for Mr. Yatim on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Highland Funeral Home at 3280 Sheppard Avenue East. Prayers will be held at 10 a.m. the following morning at the same location.