Hands up, don’t shoot | Feature | Chicago Reader

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Hands up, don’t shoot

Video released Thursday shows that 13-year-old Adam Toledo was unarmed and raising his hands when he was killed by police.

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The city's Civilian Office of Police Accountability on Thursday released multiple videos detailing the police shooting death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, offering for the first time a complete look at the Little Village teen's final moments and confirming that Toledo had his hands raised, without a weapon, when he was killed.

For two and a half weeks since Toledo's death on March 29, city officials had been tight-lipped about the actual events that led to the shooting. But now that videos are released, the public finally has a clear picture about what happened. As the video shows, and by Mayor Lori Lightfoot's own admission, Toledo didn't fire at officers.

In the more than nine-minute body-cam video of the officer who killed Toledo, the teen can be seen running down an alley away from the officer, who chased him to a gap in a fence before killing the unarmed teen. Moments after the officer shoots Toledo, he rolls the bleeding teen over, asks if he is OK, and asks where the bullet he fired landed.

Authorities have repeatedly blamed 21-year-old Ruben Roman, who was with Toledo, for setting off the events that led to the police shooting. Roman is now awaiting trial for a number of felonies, including aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, child endangerment, and reckless discharge of a firearm. Prosecutors initially incorrectly said Toledo was armed when he was shot. Officials corrected those claims minutes before the video was released.

As the city prepares for protests in the aftermath of the video's release, Lightfoot again stands on the side of police, instead of the members of her own communities calling for justice and accountability. Steps toward accountability, namely the release of the body-cam video, once again came only after immense pressure and outrage from Black and Brown Chicagoans. In a joint April 15 statement, Lightfoot, the city's Corporation Counsel Celia Meza, and legal representatives for Toledo's family called for peaceful protest.

A nearly 50-minute press conference following the statement focused more on children, community, and emotional platitudes than the actual facts of Toledo's death. Police violence only earned a brief mention, drowned out by references to the pandemic and compounding crises and calls for community healing. And while Lightfoot and other city officials expect tensions to flare after the video is released, she still called for deference to the police. "As the investigation in the police shooting . . . continues, I urge everyone: reserve judgment until the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, that's COPA, has done its work," she said.

Just yesterday, the Chicago Police Department also updated its policies for how officers interact with protesters, specifically how officers disperse crowds. The updates come after, according to a city inspector general, the department had virtually no plan in place as its unprepared officers responded to massive protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police last summer.

And while Lightfoot has made significant efforts to set herself apart from her predecessor Rahm Emanuel, her response to the Toledo shooting is troublingly similar to Emanuel's intransigence in the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald. In the aftermath of McDonald's death, CPD was quick to label the 17-year-old a threat, falsely accusing him of lunging at officers. In Toledo's case, city officials have repeatedly claimed that the Little Village teen was a young, gunslinging gang member and a danger to officers.

While city officials and CPD supporters have repeatedly asked where Toledo's family was during his purported gang activity, many are rightfully turning that question back onto the city itself. How does a city allow conditions to deteriorate so significantly that its children are pushed to join gangs? When is CPD going to stop killing children? And when is the city going to stop lying to its citizens?

News of plans to raise the Lake Shore Drive bridge Thursday night did nothing to quell tensions, though city transit officials claimed it was for routine testing and maintenance. This is how she handled the George Floyd protests, cutting off the affluent business district from Black and Brown protesters under the guise of safety and protecting the Loop's luxury shops. As my colleague Maya Dukmasova wrote in November, "the shutdowns left many feeling that Mayor Lightfoot was more concerned about protecting downtown businesses and some of the city's wealthiest residents than the police violence that brought people out to the streets."

Reiterating what community leaders have said time and time again, we see ourselves and our children in Adam Toledo, our mothers, siblings, abuelas, and abuelos in his grieving family. I've had a hard time separating myself from the story. We shared the same name. I grew up in a mixed-race, middle-class family that spoke mostly English. I understand Spanish, but struggle to respond in my family's native language. My olive skin leans more white than Brown. My life experiences are not the same as Adam Toledo's, but the quickness with which many have demonized him is familiar. It reminds me of feeling the eyes watching me in department stores, of the glares I'd get in Spanish class when I'd roll my Rs, of the snide comments about whether I only ate rice and beans in the cafeteria. He was only 13.   v

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the city's bridges were raised before the video was released.

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