In Toronto, we are still struggling to understand what happened to Sammy Yatim. The 18-year-old had a knife on a streetcar and the police shot him eight times, then tasered him. You can find the video on YouTube.
Why do stories of police brutality outrage us? Make us feel angry and disgusted? Propel us to take to the streets and protest? We give our police guns, tasers, batons and surely, we must believe they will use them — and occasionally overuse them.
We trust the police to make us feel safe. And safety is simple that: a feeling. A lot of people think the police’s job is to prevent crime but it’s more than that — because then, cases like Sammy Yatim wouldn’t hurt so much.
Safety is a feeling and not a rational one. We don’t feel safer knowing crime rates have gone up or down. More police should mean less crime but we actually feel less safe with lots of police cruisers around. Nobody likes a mass arrest.
What makes us feel safe? Police on feet, police on bikes, police with fuzzy animals. Police talking to people and kissing babies. Police cracking jokes on Twitter, helping old ladies cross the street, teaching kids to “say no to drugs” and running breathalyzer tests. And sadly, police who die to keep us safe.
It’s a hard job making so many people feel safe and it’s one that is implicitly bestowed on the police as we expect them to play the roles of social worker, psychologist, lawyer and cop equally well during moments of crisis.
Police brutality hurts so much, it carries on for generations and across borders. Citizens from countries with well-known corrupt police warn their children and their children’s child to distrust cops. They bring the sentiment with them when they move, when they grow old and when they decide to run when approached by a cop.
Police brutality isn’t an act of violence — it’s an act of betrayal. The very people we trust to deliver that feeling of safety are the same ones that undermine it. And that’s where it really hurts.