Chicago and the nation rocked by the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo
Video released by Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability has exposed the truth of his fatal interaction with the police on March 29.
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In the early morning of March 29, Chicago police officer Eric Stillman and his partner responded to a nearby ShotSpotter alert of eight shots fired in the city’s Little Village neighborhood on the West Side.
They got to the scene in less than a minute and found 21-year-old Ruben Roman and 13-year-old Adam Toledo fleeing on foot. Roman was detained almost immediately, but Toledo made it into an alley before Stillman caught up to him.
Toledo was shot and killed by Stillman in the ensuing encounter.
When the news of the police shooting broke, Toledo wasn’t identified, nor was his age. He was one of two males found in a nearby alley that was shot in the chest and killed by police.
It wasn’t until three days, on April 1, that Toledo’s name and age were released as the victim of the police shooting in Little Village. COPA, Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, also said it could not release the police footage of the incident due to Toledo’s age.
He was a seventh grader at Gary Elementary School in Chicago, a Latino, and one of the youngest people killed by Illinois police in recent years, according to the New York Times.
He lived with his mother, grandfather, and two siblings.
In a press conference held by members of the Little Village community on April 2, Adam’s Mother, Elizabeth Toledo, said her son often played with Legos and rode bikes with his siblings. Another statement from a family attorney said he wanted to one day become a police officer.
Elizabeth also said her son had been missing for a number of days before coming home again on March 28. Toledo left again before he was killed by police. At the press conference, she also demanded transparency from the Chicago PD.
“I just want to know what really happened to my baby,” she said at the time.
After initially saying it could not release the bodycam footage, COPA reversed course, and said it would release the footage on April 15. Two days before, Toledo’s family reviewed the tapes.
A lawyer for the family told the Chicago Sun-Times that the experience was “difficult and heartbreaking.”
When the footage was released by COPA on April 15, not only was the truth of what occurred in the alley on March 29 revealed, but Toledo’s name was also added to the tragic narrative that’s played out over the last year in regards to police violence and Black and Brown victims — with names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Daunte Wright.
The video, which is extremely graphic, shows Stillman catch up to Toledo in the alley and demand he show his hands as the 13-year-old faces a fence. He then orders Toledo to “drop it” before the teen turns towards the officer with his hands raised. Stillman then lets off one shot that hits Toledo in the chest. He falls back against the fence and slumps to the ground as Stillman advances, asking the teen if he’s ok to no response.
Toledo was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Another angle of the incident shows Toledo toss an object from his hand before turning towards Stillman. A gun was later found not far from his body.
“He tossed the gun,” said Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, one of the family’s attorneys. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
Weiss Ortiz is now in the process of exploring legal action alongside the family against Stillman.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said.
Stillman’s defense initially relied on the previous notion that Toledo had turned towards the officer with the gun in his hand. The video proved otherwise, as Toledo tossed the whatever was in his hand before raising them and turning towards Stillman.
Further confusion was stirred as a prosecutor from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office failed to “fully inform himself” before responding to questions about whether or not Toledo was holding a gun when he was shot.
The release of the tapes spurred outrage across Chicago and the nation. Toledo’s family has since come out to plead for nonviolence.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot came out against the notion Toledo fired any gun at Stillman, but still urged the community to “wait until we hear all the facts.” Still, she understood the emotional reactions.
“Chicago has a long legacy of police violence and police misconduct that have left far too many residents, especially those who are Black and Brown — in a constant state of fear and pain,” Lightfoot was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times. “It is certainly understandable why so many of our residents are feeling an all-too-familiar surge of outrage and pain.”
Chicago Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García put words to that pain. It’s not only that Toledo’s death in police hands shows a failure to reform, but also that the Chicago’s leaders have neglected to properly protect or care for the city’s youth.
“We failed Adam, as we have failed so many other young people in our country,” said García in a released statement.