Nothing we do or say or write or advocate will bring back Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old kid shot by a Chicago police officer on March 29. Our agony, our tears, our careful study of the videos released Thursday won’t bring him back.
He is a boy running from police in the middle of the night, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, his feet pounding the pavement as he outpaces the officer in a Little Village alley. He stops near a fence. He turns toward the officer and a shot rings out. He crumples to the ground, blood on his face and hands, as panicked voices soon surround him, his body still and unmoving. The officer begs him to stay awake, to stay alert as the paramedics descend.
The split-second movements of the officer, of Adam, will be carefully scrutinized as the case moves through the investigation phase, and as the officer moves through the police conduct review process. Moments, seconds, will be analyzed. Witnesses will be called. Experts will be heard. All of that will be important in gaining a fuller understanding of what happened and why.
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But it won’t bring Adam back. And those analyses, while important, should not override the excruciating theme woven into this case and so many others: that police respond to calls in Black and brown communities more aggressively, more callously, than in white communities. That the often amped-up police response is not commensurate with the situation at hand. That interactions are gruff and hostile. And that the de-escalation techniques reform groups have long advocated never seem to get implemented.
And so residents in minority communities are more fearful of police. Less willing to cooperate. More likely to run. Like Adam.
It’s pure agony to watch it happen over and over.
Until the Chicago Police Department and others across the country commit to restoring a sense of basic fairness in how they respond to each and every traffic stop, search warrant, domestic dispute, shots fired — call for help — until they can demonstrate a sense of fairness, without double standards, this city and others are likely to see more cases like Adam’s. It won’t matter so much whose hands were where or which movements were too sly, too suspicious. It will happen again and again if police departments don’t overhaul the way they interact with Black and brown residents and rebuild the trust eroded over so many decades.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and others this week urged the public to let the process play out and allow the investigative bodies to do their work. “Reserve judgment,” she said Thursday. “We don’t have enough information to be the judge and jury” in this case.
“Let’s wait until we hear all the facts,” she said.
As we wait, the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is unfolding in Minneapolis. The second-degree manslaughter charge filed against former officer Kim Potter, accused of shooting Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb, is unfolding. And we have Adam here in Chicago, reminding us of the work that has not been done. We’ve been here before and we should not be here again.
The consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice that outlines steps the Police Department needs to take to rebuild trust and to better serve the public cannot continue to be shoved to the back burner of City Hall’s priorities. Get going.
“We have to do better,” Lightfoot said.
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