Of Demons and the Death on Camera of Sammy Yatim

All of us battle the demons, whether we are boys with baseball caps and knives or men with uniforms and guns.

We are deep in a Toronto night. The video begins without sirens. I notice their absence.

Men and women dressed in black and armed with guns move back and forth or stand outside an eerie yellow haze that cannot properly be called light. Another figure, an apparent man-child, half in black and half in white, moves back and forth within the stopped streetcar.

Now I hear the sirens. They seem faint and far away, muted voices rushing to the scene, noises in the night.

The video images are vague but I am the parent of young men, and in Sammy’s posture I can see what might be arrogance mixed with fear – that, or the failing struggle of someone much too young to keep the demons in or out alone. But whatever else I see, I see a boy. For all that he may be spewing foul words or waving about a knife, he is a boy. He is one boy. The calling sirens still sound distant.

I was not in that streetcar on that street. I do not know who lost the struggle first. I know that shots rang out – first three and then six more – and Sammy was no longer there. I notice his absence and I peer closer, searching. He is gone. The boy has disappeared. The remaining men and women mill about, as if not certain where they are or what they’ve done or what they are to do.

The noise now finds its power, and it grows. Its howling invades the night, rising and falling and pulsing. It does not feel as if it came closer; only that it grew louder. It seems to be rushing everywhere at once and for a moment, I can almost believe that it is gloating.

Some will be disappointed with the video. They came to it because of media warnings that promised it was graphic. They wanted horror, obtained with a free ticket and savoured in their own homes. Let’s have some blood, some louder screams, and just a little crying please? But there was none of what they wanted.

They do not see the horror that is there for them to see.

When the man with a gun killed one boy with a knife, those nine bullets ripped a hole in the walls of our world. They left a tear large enough that, as  Sammy slipped away from us, the demons could enter, dancing with others of their tribe, screaming out the news of their victory and madly rising higher in our now much darker sky.



The Boston Bombing: A Child, Waiting for his Father, was Murdered Today

Thoughts as we all prepare to return to the marathon.

A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

We do not yet know whose hate created this or whether the bomber owned that hate, borrowed it, or had it thrust upon him. We do not know where it was born or by what route it slouched its way towards Boston. We do not know why. We know only what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Days, of course, will pass, and as they do some details will emerge. These will be seized upon and a variety of talking heads will tell assorted tales, each claiming that this information is in some way essential, that only with it can we know.

We may be told about the ethnicity, the gender and the nationality of the bomber. Some will urge us to consider and to understand, citing historic hurts or ancient bonds of blood. They may cajole, or plead or even lecture us, a touch of practiced outrage in their voices. They will tell us that we need to know what they know.

They are wrong. Whoever set off the Boston bombs gave up ethnicity, race, gender and tribe at the precise moment of detonation. Such things are markers of humanity. They cannot afterwards be claimed by anyone who destroys them in others. To kill is to argue that all human characteristics are worth less than some crazed idea or pestilent need. We may have heritage or we may have hate; we may not, as a killer, own both. We therefore do not need to know this information. We know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Other experts will caution us to consider a possible religious motive. Again they may urge us to be understanding, to be aware of a bigger picture.  I would argue that we need no bigger picture. What has any god to do with this? The gods of my acquaintance have all been rather fond of people – even when we misbehaved a little – and all were certainly fond of children. Each claimed to have created us all, and the stories of that creation were all loving. The story of the Boston bombing would move such gods to tears and then to rage.

Sin, we are often told, is in the idea as much as it is in the action spawned by the idea. Sin therefore comes before the act. If those who set these bombs and killed these people did so in honour of their god, then at the moment they even contemplated the idea, deep within them their god died. The only religious man I’ve ever known to contemplate the killing of a child for love of god was Abraham, and he prepared to sacrifice his own child, not some other parent’s. No, there was no god involved in this. We know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Could we really learn anything at all by trying to know the killer? What is there to know that is not immediately evident? The killer has no eyes. No one who could see the Boston streets at that moment could possibly destroy such happy chaos. The killer has no heart. No one capable of love could ignore its presence everywhere in the scene. The killer has no soul; the howling desert winds of hate and self-loathing would long ago have shrivelled that. And the killer has no genitals or if so, they do not function, for no human being capable of creating a child willfully destroys an 8 year old boy. Did the killer give these up or were they snatched away.  We do not know. That sadness happened yesterday. We only know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Why do I repeat that? It is the only thing I have to take me forward out of this. I cannot address the hates that might have made the monster. I cannot soothe survivalist concerns or explain away the misinterpretations of widely disparate religions. I cannot undo years of abuse committed a street, a state, a country or a continent away.  I cannot cure insanity in the world or disorder in the cosmos. I can only rule my own very small world and ensure that to the greatest possible extent it is a place of safety and comfort for any who enter it. I need to do this because I know how fragile it all can be. I need to remember that a child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

And I do so for one other reason, and here I make no apology. There will come a time when the individuals or groups who did this will be apprehended. Then will come the whirlwind – of words and justifications and explanations. Depending on the identity of the guilty, we will hear talk of “political realities” or “regional disparities” or “the poison of poverty” or the “history of exploitation” or the “consequence of American expansionism”. We will have pundits here and politicians there and celebrities, celebrities just everywhere. There will be so many who will try to own this and bend it and spin it and use it, so many that we may find ourselves confused when it is finally time to impose justice. At that time, I want us all to have the strength to know what we need to know.

A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.