Wednesday, March 16, 2016

UPDATED: More On Alex Wettlaufer, Toronto's Latest Young Person Killed By Police

If we are given to even modest introspection, it seems inevitable that the longer we live, the more we develop an increasing appreciation not only for the wonder of life but also its shortness and fragility. The older we get, the more we are witness to a parade of people who enter and leave our orbits, sometimes by choice, but more often by the cold fact of mortality. The exits that hurt us the most, of course, are of those we have known and loved. Yet the latter represent only a minute part of the larger human experience, but if we watch, listen and read carefully, even those we don't know touch us in some ways. I feel that way about Alex Wettlaufer, the young man killed Sunday night by Toronto police, about whom I wrote yesterday.



Unlike his friend Sammy Yatim, who met the same fate as he did, Wettlaufer will likely not occupy a large part of public consciousness, owing to the singular absence of video documenting his demise. I suppose that is why there was absolutely no followup on last night's news; the media were consumed instead by the attack on two soldiers by Ayanle Hassan Ali at a recruitment centre, an attack that Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders was only to happy to hold a press conference about, despite the usual official reticence 'because the investigation is ongoing.' Silence thus far is the only official response to the killing of Alex.

But one media outlet has not forgotten the young man whose life was so cruelly cut short. Today's Toronto Star, in a solid editorial, bears witness to that life and discusses, as I tried to do yesterday, the implications of his death. I am taking this opportunity to reproduce the entire piece, one that I hope you will read:
Another police shooting can’t be brushed aside

We’ll have to wait weeks or months for the official version of what exactly went down late Sunday night in a park in North York. But even before all the facts are known, there are serious questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of Alex Wettlaufer.

He’s the 21-year-old man who was shot dead by Toronto police just before midnight on Sunday. The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is on the case, so the usual veil of silence has been drawn over the incident.

But this much is known: Police say they had “preliminary information” that two men were fighting at the Leslie subway station and one of them had a gun. Investigators say one man fled into the nearby park. There was a confrontation with police, and Wettlaufer was fatally shot.

Wettlaufer’s family, however, tells a very different story. They describe him as a quiet man with a full-time job whose ambition was to join the military. His mother, Wendy, says he was on his cellphone in the park, talking to a family member, at the moment he was shot. “He was crying, saying that he’s being surrounded,” she told CP24. “They kept telling him to put the weapon down, and he kept hollering telling them he didn’t have a weapon.”

Did Wettlaufer have a gun? Or did police mistake his cellphone for a weapon? These are among the questions that SIU investigators, who look into all deaths involving police, must try and answer amid the disturbing claims from Wettlaufer’s family.

Without video or other independent evidence, though, they will have to rely mainly on the version provided by police themselves. Wettlaufer cannot give his side. And in the wake of the Sammy Yatim shooting, many people will be understandably skeptical of the story told by police.

Yatim’s death in 2013 was captured on video from multiple angles. It showed a Toronto policeman, Const. James Forcillo, shooting Yatim eight times on an empty, stopped streetcar. In January, Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder – but there’s little doubt that without the video evidence he would have gone free. That’s what happened with every other officer charged with murder or manslaughter.

Ironically, Wettlaufer attended the same school as Sammy Yatim and they were said to be friends. The public was shocked by Yatim’s death because the video showed conclusively that it simply didn’t have to happen. He was trapped alone on the streetcar and there was no good reason to shoot him. Chief Mark Saunders himself acknowledged at the time that his force had lost public trust.

After that, Torontonians are in no mood to quietly accept the death of yet another young man in questionable circumstances. His shooting is another argument for all officers to wear body cameras, so there would be independent confirmation of how the confrontation developed.

In the absence of that, the public will expect a thorough investigation that does not take the official explanation at face value.
Doesn't Alex Wettlaufer deserve to be remembered by all of us, not just his devatated family and friends?

UPDATE: There is a gogundme campaign to help cover Alex's funeral. If you might be interested in contributing, please click here.

9 comments:

  1. This is becoming nightmarish, Lorne.

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    1. And I see no end to it anytime soon, Mound.

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    2. A very caring post Lorne, for a young man just starting out in life. His family must be devastated. What kind of cops shoot an unarmed man? At this point anyone under completely innocent circumstances can lose their life when now confronted by Toronto Police.
      This is really, really scary.

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    3. I think that it is the arbitrariness of his death, without any apparent provocation (that cone of police silence is all-encompassing) that bothers me so much, Pamela. That a young person with his whole life ahead of him could lose it in such a way is beyond sad.

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  2. There was something about this story from the very first reporting that had two of us sit up and notice. Instinctively we looked at each other and strongly felt that this going to turn out, as it appears to be, an innocent individual killed by Toronto Police. Must say, I am not impressed with the fact that the body cameras are at this stage, only a pilot project worn by the traffic division. No. Its these very police officers that should be wearing them. As a conservative, rather than one of the far left, please be aware there are far more than the usual suspects waking up to the reality of who are police have become today. Condolences to the family. Fighting this system is going to be very difficult without the right forces willing to help them. I sincerely do hope they find the same help that managed to bring out the truth behind the Sammy Yatim murder.

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    1. Well-said, Anon. I think you speak for many in your comments, and it is heartening to know that the police are causing increasing unease across the political spectrum. This is, after all, not an issue of ideology but one of fundamental justice and accountability.

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  3. I weep everytime I hear that another person's life gets snuffed out by those who promise to "serve and protect" our city, whether they are holding a knife, hammer, cell phone or just shouting back at the cops screaming at them to submit. Are these the situations these cops feel their lives are endangered when they are in groups carry loaded weapons? One shot to the leg, or a warning shot, would likely completely get the incident under control. Why are multiple shots from more than one gun be allowed. There are so many questions and simple solutions to this insanity - where are our leaders. Forget SmartTrack Mr. Tory, get your police under control FAST! I was there during the G20 fiasco, where my job was located, and saw the build up of anticipated mayhem and the resounding fascistic response. Cops from all over we chomping at the bit for a smack down so they could do what they are trained to do yet rarely face such situations, Build it (the fence) and they will come. Haper needed this to prove he was tough on crime. I get that. What is the underlying power play within the police department which turns these incidents into anti-terrorist style take downs? Is this training for the inevitable?

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  4. I have heard so much about this incident from a friend I've known for 20 years, who themselves has known the family for decades, and watched all the kids grow up. Details that DO NOT match up with what is being reported. Alex was only dropping his girlfriend off at the subway, because he didn't want her walking there at night by herself. Afterwards he took the usual shortcut home along the ravine, as many of the kids from the neighbourhood have for generations. It would seem this was a case of mistaken identity, and Alex died because of this mistake! The family was told he was shot by 3 different officers after the autopsy was complete. And the strangest part... the cellphone he was using to call his family when he was shot was apparently NOT recovered by the police! And to add to this bullshit, the family home has been raided, not once but twice. Three of Alex's siblings have been arrested and charged for things like mischief and threats because of angry posts on Facebook. The raids were conducted under the pretense of looking for drugs and weapons, but of course nothing was found. The family is scared, as they are being harassed by the police to the point that they are afraid to say anything. These details should be all over the media, and it pisses me off so much to hear what this poor family is going through because the police made a mistake and are making their life a living hell to save their own asses! Now I can't speak to the veracity of any of these details, as we all know how personal bias can change things that are said as they are shared between people, but something is definitely not right here. The travesty of this incident and the subsequent actions by the police should be all over the news. This is much worse than the Yatim shooting if the police are truly guilty here. It makes me so sick thinking the police will likely get away with this shooting.

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    1. I would say, Anon, that you should convey this information to the Toronto Star, which has shown consistent integrity in holding the police to account. If the family is willing to come forward to the press, I can't believe their story won't be amply covered.

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