Chicago has repeatedly grappled with cases of police misconduct and police-involved shootings, and the fatal shooting of 13 year-old Adam Toledo by Chicago police has renewed demands for justice and accountability yet again.
Eric Stillman, a Chicago police officer, shot and killed Adam following a foot pursuit by officers on 29 March. When the shooting happened, Adam was with Ruben Roman, 21, who has since been charged with several felonies in connection to that night including reckless discharge of a firearm and child endangerment.
Adam, who was from the predominantly Latino community of Little Village on the city’s west side and was only in seventh grade, is one of the youngest people killed by the police in the state of Illinois in recent years.
On Thursday, city officials released body camera footage of the shooting that appears to show Stillman shooting Adam, as the teenager raises his hands into the air.
Reactions to the video were immediate, from rage to sadness, and deep frustration. Many were outraged that authorities had initially stated that Adam had a gun in his hand at the time of the shooting, a claim that was later retracted and that the video proves footage false. Hundreds have attended protests across the city, calling for transparency and accountability regarding Adam’s death and those of so many others.
Chicago has had a long, terrible history of racist policing, with a startling number of police-involved shootings. In 2017, a scathing report from the US Department of Justice found that the Chicago police department routinely used excessive and unreasonable deadly force, had little oversight and officers were improperly trained.
The report came after the murder of Laquan McDonald by the Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke garnered national attention in 2015. Laquan was 17 years old, and had been walking away from police officers when he was shot 16 times.
The then mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was widely criticized after attempting to suppress information and video footage of the incident, ahead of his 2015 re-election. Van Dyke has since been sentenced to 81 months in prison for second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.
Under the current mayor, Lori Lightfoot, who was celebrated nationally when she was elected as the city’s first Black, openly gay mayor in 2019, police misconduct and killings have continued.
Lightfoot has continually announced plans to prioritize police reform and accountability. As a part of her election campaign, she listed increasing police accountability as one of her main priorities. However, critics have noted that there has been little progress on Lightfoot’s repeated promises.
In March, in addition to Adam’s death, Anthony Alverez, 22, and Travon Chadwell, 18, were also killed by Chicago police. Previously, Lightfoot received widespread criticism for failing to address and turn over video footage of a 2019 botched police raid, where police wrongfully raided the home of Anjanette Young and handcuffed her while she was naked.
Chicago city council members have been frustrated at Lightfoot’s inability to enact greater civilian oversight of the Chicago police department, a reform she campaigned on.
“This is not just a broken promise … This is complicity in police abuses toward Black and brown Chicagoans. This is our mayor being a cop,” said Jasmine Salas, a community organizer with Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, to the Chicago Sun-Times.
A recent report by a court-appointed, independent investigator found some very small signs of progress – in that the city met more of its obligations than it missed for the first time.
But the percentage of commitments met still added up to a “failing grade” and Chicago had missed important targets with regards to police reform, goals that had been set in a reform plan mandated by federal court in connection to the 2017 report findings.
One of the most notable areas of failure, according to the recent report, has been the Chicago police department’s continued inability to meaningfully work with marginalized communities, those most susceptible to racist policing.
“Ultimately, we will know that reform is taking root when community members see and feel it in their neighborhoods,” independent monitor Maggie Hickey said in a statement on the report.
In the meantime, more protests are planned on Friday and into next week in response to the death of Adam and the newly released video. Lightfoot and the Toledo family have asked for people to remain peaceful amid these rising tensions in the city.
“Everybody is extremely angry,” Baltazar Enriquez, the president of Little Village Community Council, told the New York Times. “We don’t need angry officers. We need social workers.”