As James Forcillo Found Guilty Of Attempted Murder,
A Plea Against Giving Toronto Police Semi-Automatic Assault Rifles
By Terri Chu
Recently, members of Toronto's public gathered for a discussion on police carding, a debate sponsored by a community-based current affairs group I am involved with called “Why Should I Care?”
Few topics have brought as much heated debate as this one. Though the practice was supposed to have stopped, the reality doesn’t fit the rhetoric for many young people whose only crime is often having black skin. For those of us who don’t share in this trait, we often underestimate the impact that racial profiling has on communities. To hear it first hand was eye opening for many in the room.
In defence of the police, one of the speakers on the panel pointed out that roughly black people commit 30% of the crime, and police have a hard enough job. Taking shortcuts is second nature for all of us in doing our jobs, whatever that job happens to be.
That was poor justification though, given it almost means that 70% of crimes are committed by people who are not black. Such short cuts have eroded young people’s faith in the institution.
There are definitely good cops on the force, and we thank them for their dedicated service. But from the outside looking in, they are overshadowed to us, the general public, by the bad apples. Eventually, when all we see are bad apple after bad apple, we assume the entire barrel got spoiled.
This is unfair to many hardworking cops and it is bad for society as a whole to lose trust in the people we are taught to go to for help from the time we are in kindergarten.
Police do have a tough job and they are dealing with a very bad PR problem. To say that the public trust in the police force is broken is an understatement. After that same public watched how police handled the G20 protests, with their unprecedented number of arrests of innocent people, it would be safe to say that the police need to earn the public’s trust once again.
As its budget balloons at roughly twice the rate of inflation, a lot of legitimate questions are being asked about how the Toronto police force is spending the money. And so, to learn that they are now acquiring dozens of military style assault rifles leaves Torontonians bewildered.
For a police force constantly in need of greater funding, does it not seem excessive for it to have toys of such destruction? When was the last time the Toronto police encountered a situation that necessitated such military style intervention? If military firepower is required, would we not be better off to call in the military? They shoveled snow for us; surely they could bring out their guns for us.
Let’s also be reminded that police forces in both Britain and New Zealand do not carry firearms at all. Special officers are called in when necessary rather than arming all front line officers.
The biggest question we as the general public have is, what will the police do with these assault weapons?
This week's court decision that police officer James Forcillo is guilty of the attempted murder of Sammy Yatim brings this all very close to home.
As though numerous bullets into Yatim’s slender body wasn’t enough, the new rifles could have allowed Forcillo, the responding officer, to shoot 22 more rounds into him.
And if Toronto police had assault rifles during the G20 protests, would we have seen civilian casualties?
Given that the public is already concerned about police overuse of force, the optics of more fire power aren't going over well for Torontonians for a simple reason: the firepower is not commensurate with the dangers this city poses.
By all accounts, Toronto is a safe city. Unlike the US, that kind of firepower isn’t commonplace among the Canadian population. Do we really need a police force with enough equipment to help enter Afghanistan?
Until the police do more to demonstrate that assault rifles are necessary, and they will be used responsibly, the residents of Toronto are rightfully apprehensive. Nobody wants to live in a police state. Torontonians shouldn’t have to fear the possibility of one either.
A free and healthy democracy must ensure citizens are not afraid of peaceful gatherings. Adding assault rifles to the mix is a big step in eroding this great country’s democratic institutions.
Like those fighting for some form of gun regulation in the U.S. remind us, the more weapons there are in a household, the more likely the family will be shot by a gun.
The case has not been made that this will make Toronto safer, but rather the opposite.
Terri Chu, an engineer, usually writes on environmental matters for ONW but writes here as a citizen of Toronto.