Police Chief Reassigns James Forcillo to Crime Stoppers Unit
by Shafiqullah Aziz
After a seven month suspension with pay, Constable James Forcillo, who killed Sammy Yatim on July 27, 2013, returned to work with the Toronto Police Services (TPS). Forcillo has now been assigned to the Crime Stoppers unit, and has been on the job since February 11, 2014.
Police Chief Bill Blair’s decision to reassign Forcillo has reignited a sense of outrage and disappointment from many Torontonians who feel that the man who shot and killed 18-year old Sammy Yatim should not be allowed to return to work. The shooting, which was caught on camera by several witnesses, mobilized thousands to take to the streets last summer to demand justice and accountability.
As a result of these mobilizations demanding justice for Sammy and other victims of police violence, the TPS and the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) approached the issue very differently than they have in past cases of civilian deaths at the hands of police. In a rare decision, the SIU decided to press charges of second-degree murder against Forcillo. This is only the second time in the SIU’s 24-year history that a cop has received such a serious charge. In most cases involving working-class and racialized youth such as Junior Manon, Alwy Al-Nadhir, and Byron Debassige, the police have received legal impunity, seemingly operating above the law.
Since the shooting, mainstream media sources have taken an unusual stance on the issue, calling for police accountability and critiquing what many have referred to as the ‘blue wall’ of protection that police receive from the legal system. One of the primary reasons for this shift in the conversation around policing is the existence of hard evidence of the shooting on YouTube that clearly show that Forcillo’s actions were completely unnecessary.
Although it is a positive outcome that Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder, a negative consequence was that popular support around Sammy’s Fight Back for Justice has been completely demobilized since late August 2013. It seems as though the public believed that their demands for accountability were met once the charges were laid, and that mass mobilizations were no longer necessary.
Fast forward seven months and Forcillo is quietly reassigned to the force. This fact was hidden from the public for over two months, in a clear effort to prevent remobilization of massive support for Sammy’s Fight Back for Justice campaign.
Currently, Forcillo is attending court for a preliminary inquest that will determine if there is enough evidence for the case to move forward. But where does this situation leave us in the discussion around demanding an end to police violence, ensuring accountability and the dismantling of the ‘blue wall’? If Forcillo’s case does move forward in court and he is convicted of second-degree murder, does this mean that we carry on with business as usual?
Of the approaches to changing policing in Toronto, there have been several suggestions made for calls to have police use body-worn video cameras, or for the TPS to make a greater effort in building relationships with Toronto communities. However, as working-class, racialized, indigenous peoples, immigrants and people with mental health issues know very well, these soft changes to policing in the city will completely avoid addressing the root causes of police brutality, and the legal impunity that violent officers receive.
We have seen, time and again, that any efforts the police or government institutions make to address public concerns are simply to pacify the public, and break apart any efforts to organize for real change. This is clearly the same tactic that has been used in this situation, as exhibited by Forcillo’s reassignment to the force once the public outcry over Sammy’s death had effectively been silenced.
As the economy falls apart, as people can’t find jobs, and the government cuts back social services, more cops are sent into our street. Ultimately we must realize that police are not keeping our communities safe. Instead, they are serving the purpose of keeping us in check by maintaining an overt presence in our schools and neighbourhoods and continuing to create divisions in our communities.
No amount of sensitivity training or workshops will fundamentally change the way police deal with working-class people in the city. Therefore, any demands made to change policing must be grounded in the building of working-class organization and unity in our neighbourhoods — and must also think of challenging the broader economic and political situations because of which cops are even necessary.
There is a definite need for working-class people to organize and build autonomy on a local level, from hood to hood. Police violence will not end by begging for reforms, but will only be addressed through building strong, united and organized communities prepared to defend themselves.