Statement from the Central Committee of Revolutionary Initiative
3 August 2013
The brazen execution of 18-year old Sammy Yatim by a Toronto police officer on July 27, 2013 has unleashed an unprecedented level of popular disdain for the Canadian state’s third-largest armed apparatus – the Toronto Police Service (TPS). The popular outrage over the nine shots fired at young Sammy has forced virtually every major media outlet to echo the indignation of the masses; meanwhile, bureaucrats, politicians and the labour aristocracy have make unprecedented public condemnations of the TPS and have called for changes to training and misconduct investigation practices.
Why has Sammy’s execution sparked so much attention?
But all the hype amounts to little more than smokescreen while the agents of this miserable system work frantically to re-establish the legitimacy of the Toronto Police Services as quickly as possible and channel popular discontentment onto this single cop, James Forcillo, who is neither extraordinary for his act of violence nor his killing of yet another unarmed youth in Toronto. The only exception is that he was caught on camera. As a consequence, the state at municipal and provincial levels may be forced to charge and convict this officer and may even have to implement some minor reforms. The mass movement we need must be on guard against any reforms that seek to deflate and disperse an upcoming movement, while leaving the structure of our enemy virtually in tact.
The only thing that distinguishes this latest incident is that the encounter was recorded on a civilian’s camera, which subsequently disrupted the usual conspiracy of silence by the media, or else the narratives spun in the media that make the victim into the perpetrator and the cop into the victim and the hero.
If there was no footage, Sammy Yatim’s name would have never hit the headlines. Video footage is the distinguishing factor of Sammy’s untimely and undeserved killing, thanks to which the world now knows.
Yet another extra-judicial killing
Let’s call it what it is: an extra-judicial killing. And Sammy Yatim is only the latest victim in a long running list that has stacked up over the decades in Toronto and across Canada. How else should we refer to the execution of youth like Sammy, which just happened to be caught on camera; or native people, especially women, all across the country? The vast majority of victims of these trigger-happy cowboys are racialized proletarians, the homeless, and Indigenous peoples – all of whom the agents of the Canadian state can and have always done away with while hardly batting an eye.
When the people hit back…
Such killings have often been sparks for mass mobilization, and in some cases even rebellious upsurges. When the two officers who killed unarmed black teenager Michael Wade Lawson were acquitted in April 1992, and a month later a Jamaican man was shot dead by Toronto Police, over 1000 people took to the streets in the so-called “Yonge Street Riot”, breaking windows on Bay St. and clashing with police.
In August 2008 when Montreal Police shot 18-year old Fredy Villanueva to death, his neighbourhood erupted in rebellion as stores were looted, cars set on fire, and most significantly, police were met with projectiles and gunfire. A paramedic and an officer were injured while another policewoman was shot.
Such spontaneous uprisings or the threat of them have in deed had the effect of curbing police killings for a time. The ‘Yonge Street Riots’ in 1992 had a part in bringing to a halt for the better part of the 1990s the common occurrence of police shooting Black men throughout Toronto – one of the outcomes of which was the creation of the Special Investigations Unit, however much of a sham that institution is. While we see these forms of rebellion as justifiable expressions of the indignation of the people, we must make clear that they will never result in fundamental change and they are no substitute for the conscious and organized revolutionary offensive against the system.
The role of the police in a capitalist society: Counter-revolution and containment
The Toronto Police Service – or any other police body in Canada, for that matter – is not simply a bureaucracy or institution onto itself: they represent the armed apparatus of the state and the first line of defense for the rich. Overall, municipal police forces throughout Canadian history have served two primary functions: (1) Repress the most advanced political strata of the masses which the ruling class sees as hostile to itself; and (2) contain the most impoverished, unruly and oppressed sections of society.
Historically, we see this with the Toronto Police gaining its first mounted unit in response to the Streetcar Strike of 1886; and later with the establishment of its criminal investigative capacities after the waves of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. The brutality and arsenal on display at the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010 on the one hand, and the daily harassment, surveillance and terror imposed on racialized proletarians in Toronto, on the other hand, are contemporary examples of these two functions of policing – counter-revolution and containment. And programs like TAVIS, policies like Form 208 “Carding”, and paramilitary operations such as the ‘Project Traveller’ raids at Dixon/Kipling in mid June 2013, clearly illustrate how the racialized segments of the working class, especially the African segments of the population, are being fiercely targeted for subjugation. The same logic applies to Africans in cities like Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax; and to Indigenous peoples in Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and other cities out west.
Therefore, the impunity of the police is only possible because the ruling classes need to preserve their image and keep them readied and on guard as a repressive and quasi-paramilitary force against the masses. To reign in the police and to check such wreckless behaviour would contradict these basic functions of the police, potentially causing the cops to waver when they really need to crack down on the masses, not to mention blunting the racism and terror that constitutes the daily work of police in poor, racialized communities.
The police function not to prevent crime but to enforce the social order of the capitalist system through the active use of and threat of violence. And the police do everything they can to maintain the ruling class’s monopoly on violence, letting that monopoly slip only to permit or even facilitate horizontal and reactionary forms of violence amongst the people, such as through the drug trade and by provoking conflicts among groups of youth and street gangs.
Transform outrage into conscious organization and resistance
In the urban centers of imperialist countries, one of the fruitful sites for building dual power and fostering revolutionary consciousness lies in this space between the most oppressed masses and the repressive institutions of the state. As the only element in that bureaucracy to regularly employ physical violence, municipal police forces provoke the most consistent and radical opposition from the populace. Therefore, we must see any attempt to divert this anger by placing the terms of the struggle in the hands of the ruling class, media, politicians and bureaucrats is defeatist and opportunistic in the extreme.
Aside from typical leftist forces, Sammy Yatim’s killing has mobilized not only the large family and many working class youth who knew him, but new swathes of people with no previous presence at rallies and demonstrations. There is a major opportunity at this point for the masses to make serious inroads into their defensive capabilities to prevent the state’s war of attrition on proletarians in this city, especially racialized people, not to mention to advance the accumulation of revolutionary forces.
We need to build the capacity to confront patrols, raids and assaults on a neighbourhood level, but this can only be done through mass action and widespread vigilance and a long-term building of capacity and conscious resistance. To do this, mass campaigns must be launched and maintained all across urban centers where police containment and repression are leading to killings like that of Sammy Yatim, not to mention the daily raiding of our communities for our sons, brothers, fathers, comrades, and friends through repressive ‘Tough on Crime’ policies.
We must take up the most advanced demands of the masses currently circulating, including a disarming of the police altogether and dismantling the Special Investigations Unit. The mothers, workers, even the semi-lumpenized youth who have the greatest hatred for this system, but who are alienated and excluded from most radical anti-capitalist movements, must be brought into mass organization and eventually revolutionary organization, and must come to recognize and take ownership over these struggles.
Communists and revolutionaries must build the mass organizations and mass movement necessary to bring the most impacted class forces into full political life, to oppose, contend with and eventually defeat the power of the police and the Canadian state as a whole alongside the rest of what must be a revolution of all oppressed and exploited peoples in this country.
In the course of building this work, we must contend with and challenge both the right opportunism and “ultra-left” errors in relation to resisting police violence. The rightist solutions will come in the form of the “sugar-coated bullets” that the state and the reformists will put forward to kill the movement, such as charging Forcillo and maybe offering some token reforms.
On the other hand, we also need to actively challenge the limitations of the all-too-easy calls for “smashing the state” and “fuck the police” in the course of our active campaigning and agitating amongst the masses, which, although express our sentiments and long-term goals, have no meaningful short-term demands or goals that could be tactically effective in accumulating forces of mass struggle and recruiting revolutionary forces therefrom.
What we require are calls and demands that neither legitimize the state nor bolsten illusions concerning its ability to reform, but demands that are still perfectly reasonable in the eyes of the masses. It is through organizing around such demands – demands that accumulate forces for reforms which, if passed, would not liquidate them – that we can make the fighting capacity of the people stronger.
Let us not let Sammy Yatim’s death pass in vain, as with so many other extra-judicial killings of young men in recent years in Toronto, from Jeffrey Reodica, Alwy Al Nahdir, Byron Debassige, Michael Eligon, Junior Manon and many more.
Let’s feed the fire sparked by those nine shots. We can’t afford to let our enemies drown the movement that’s waiting to flare up. Seize the time!
THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY OF SAMMY’S DEATH!
BUILD PEOPLE’S POWER TO DEFEND OUR COMMUNITIES!