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“Comply or Die”

Yet again we have Canadian police killing civilians, acting as judge, jury and — most importantly — executioner. While we wait for a thorough and impartial investigation — in our dreams — of the shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto, as with the killing of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport in 2007 it’s certainly telling to note that the cops had apparently killed him within 39 seconds of arriving on the scene, even as he stood alone inside a tram car! Do the cops not learn anything from their past behaviour?!

Unlike the Dziekanski case though, this cop clearly shot to kill. You don’t fire nine shots into someone expecting that they’ll be providing fingerprints and a mug shot down at the cop shop later. Oh, and just for good measure (kind of a “fuck you, punk”), one of the 23 cops on the scene (because apparently all the thugs in town wanted a piece of the action) then tasered Yatim’s lifeless body, before ironic first aid was performed on him. (Actually, one can’t help but wonder if the taser was deployed only so that the cops could say that they tried to subdue Yatim with it. A little fudging of the time line in the cops’ notes would have been required of course, but that’s OK, as long as the bad guy dies.)

Part of the report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The National on 28 July 2013 included an interview with a former Toronto cop who, while being critical of the speed with which Yatim was executed, used the term “Comply or die.” I’d never heard the term before, but it so poetically and succinctly seems to sum up what appears to be the motto of most police forces these days.

Rather than engage the population they’re supposed to protect in order to use “minimum force” and avoid violence — yes, even apparent bad guys with knives need to be engaged unless loss of life is imminent — cops these days seem to be on a rampage, killing, tasering or pepper-spraying anybody that even dares to look at them sideways. It doesn’t even matter that you’ve managed to live for a half century or more without so much as stealing a penny candy as a kid or getting a parking ticket, you too can find yourself on the wrong end of a weapon held by a mentally unstable cop who is miffed at you for not immediately getting down and kissing his jackboots the moment he (or she in the case of “Constable 728”, aka Stefanie Trudeau) barks a command in your direction, even when you hadn’t heretofore even had a reason to note the cop’s presence.

And that last point is important to note. All sorts of people come to the defence of the cops in cases like this for all sorts of reasons, many of whom probably fit into my penny candy / parking ticket description. Based on their life experiences, it’s obvious to them that anyone who incurs the wrath — or even just the attention — of the police is obviously guilty of something. It doesn’t really matter what that “something” is; for these people you’re guilty until proven innocent, and “you must have done something to deserve being shot, tasered or pepper-sprayed.” Or, in the case of completely blameless Buddy Tavares and his assailant RCMP Constable Geoff Mantler, you must have done something to deserve having said jackboot forcibly applied to your lips to assist you in planting the kiss.

That old adage about walking a mile in someone’s shoes comes to mind.

Related to this story but with reference to my previous post about the Canadian media, I found it odd how CBC television news showed pictures of Yatim looking like something of a gangster but had a former Toronto cop on who questioned the speed of the use of force, while Global television news showed pictures of a clean-cut young kid, but had on their own “expert” who said that cops had no choice but to shoot to kill.

Criticisms of the Press: Canadian Edition

We, the public, need a free and professional press. Fortunately, in Canada, the “free” part is not usually an issue. But recently the “professional” part certainly took a beating, in my opinion, certainly on the television.

First up is the rail tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. I never thought I’d say this about the Milquetoast Peter Mansbridge, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s chief correspondent and anchor of The National news programme, but where is the guy? In his place we’ve had Mark Kelley anchoring the “show” (as he himself called it) nightly from the dark streets of Lac-Mégantic, giving us hand-wringing man-on-the-street interview after hand-wringing man-on-the-street interview with grieving survivors and residents, done by him and his team of reporters, some seemingly reeled in from other parts of the country in an attempt to leave no grieving resident unturned.

Then the hue and cry started to arise about the conspicuous absence of the chairman of The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, Inc. (owners of the runaway train), Edward Burkhardt. Mark Kelley set the tone the night before Burkhardt was scheduled to show up in Lac-Mégantic, four days after the derailment, by seeming to discount anything Burkhardt might say on his arrival. And so it was that Burkhardt arrived in Lac-Mégantic and promptly made a fool of himself. However, he was aided and abetted in that endeavour by so-called journalists, whose weighty questions included, “How much are you worth?” and “Did you sleep last night?” What the hell?! What the fuck does that have to do with anything?! If we’re going to hang everyone in Lac-Mégantic who has slept since the disaster on 6 July, we’re going to run out of lamp posts! The press displayed a pack mentality, savaging Burkhardt in a most tawdry and unprofessional manner like sharks in a blood-fuelled frenzy.

On a side note, Edward Burkhardt really does need to fire himself as the public face of his company until he gets some professional help in handling the press. That, some help with showing a little more empathy (he has the words figured out; he needs help with the delivery) and a kick in the arse for hanging his employee and a volunteer fire department out to dry before a full investigation, will help him and his companies immensely after future accidents. But he doesn’t deserve death threats.

And another side note is this use of the term “show” to describe a news programme. As I’ve pointed out, Mark Kelley of the CBC used this term, and I’ve heard Dawna Friesen of Global News refer to her news programme as a “show” too. My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a “show” as, among other things:

· n.
1 a spectacle or display.
2 a play or other stage performance, especially a musical. > a light entertainment programme on television or radio.

Sadly, the use of the term “show” is actually accurate these days, especially with respect to the “light entertainment” part, as I’ll demonstrate in a moment. However, it shouldn’t be. I don’t watch, listen to or read the news to be entertained. (It’s mostly about death and destruction anyway. How is that entertaining?!) I’m not interested in the weather reporter with a joke a minute, or the (not so) witty repartee between the news reader and the sports guy. Sadly, I think I’m in the minority.

The other news item that sickens me is the treatment of the death of some Hollywood actor. Umm, what’s his name again? (Do web search for “dead actor”.) Oh yeah, some guy named Cory Monteith. I guess he was on some popular TV show or another, actually, so maybe he’s not actually a “Hollywood actor”.

Any death is a tragedy for someone, usually that person’s family and friends, not to mention the deceased him- or herself. Sorry, but Cory and I didn’t know each other, therefore I am not a friend of his and I’m pretty sure he’s also not a member of my extended family. (If either were true, I wouldn’t be getting my news about him off the TV.) So, as a human being, I extend my condolences to the Monteith family and Cory’s friends. However, I’m not going to grieve for him, and the “news shows” should not expect that I will. Nor should they pander to and perpetuate the cult of celebrity worship.

But what is truly sickening to me is that Monteith’s death was the lead item, getting a full five or six minutes of coverage on the six o’ clock news on Global News on 14 July (and a similar amount of time on CBC’s national news, although at least a predicted federal cabinet shuffle got top billing), while the deaths of two nameless “nobodies” on the following two news stories were accorded thirty seconds each. Where is the sense of proportion?!

Again, I’m probably in the minority with respect to the “light entertainment” that news has become; these days, it seems, if it’s not entertaining and keeping our short attention spans occupied, it’s apparently not worth paying attention to. After all, there’s probably a competitor with a shinier, more entertaining “show” on another channel. However, I don’t think it’s too much to expect a modicum of professionalism and at least an attempt at a veneer of impartiality from journalists when it comes to thinking of questions to ask stunned officials on the scene of a deadly disaster.