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“Cold-Blooded Murder”: Chicago Police Officer Shot 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo with His Hands in the Air

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Protesters in Chicago took to the streets to condemn the police killing of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latinx boy, after bodycam video released by the Chicago police showed Toledo had his hands up in the air when a police officer shot him dead on March 29. Police initially described the incident as an “armed confrontation,” but the video shows Toledo raised his hands after being ordered to do so. He was killed within 20 seconds of the officer leaving his car to chase him down a dark alley following a report of gunshots in the area. “A Chicago police officer murdered Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old. There is no other way to describe what we saw in the video,” says Rey Wences, a community organizer based in Chicago’s Little Village. We also speak with Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez, a Chicago alderperson, who says city officials spent weeks disparaging Adam Toledo before releasing the bodycam footage. “Lori Lightfoot ran as a reformer. She ran on transparency,” Rodríguez-Sanchez says of Chicago’s mayor. “She’s doing exactly the opposite of that.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A warning to our viewers: The following story contains graphic descriptions and footage of police violence.

Protesters took to the streets of Chicago Thursday night to condemn the police killing of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latinx boy. Police bodycam video released by the Chicago police shows Adam had his hands up in the air when a police officer shot him dead March 29th. Adam was a seventh grader at Gary Elementary School. The Chicago police initially described the incident as an “armed confrontation,” but the video shows Adam raised his hands after being ordered to do so. He was killed within 20 seconds of the white officer leaving his car to chase him down a dark alley following a report of gunshots in the area. The shooting took place on Chicago’s West Side in the largely Latinx neighborhood of Little Village. The Toledo family’s attorney, Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, described the killing as an “assassination.”

ADEENA WEISS-ORTIZ: By now, all of you have seen the videos of Adam Toledo. They are especially moving, saddening, distressful, to see a 13-year-old boy shot at the hands of an officer. For those of you with children, you can relate to some of the pain that the Toledos are feeling today. Those videos speak for themselves. Adam, during his last second of life, did not have a gun in his hand. The officer screamed at him, “Show me your hands!” Adam complied, turned around. His hands were empty when he was shot in the chest at the hands of the officer. He did not have a gun in his hand, contrary to the reports made earlier today.

AMY GOODMAN: The police officer who shot Adam Toledo has been placed on administrative duty. Eric Stillman had four use-of-force reports and three complaints filed against him since 2017.

This comes as Chicago police have faced intense scrutiny since 2014, when a white officer shot and killed Black teenager Laquan McDonald, and police were accused of a cover-up.

We go now to Chicago, where we’re joined by two guests. Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez is a Chicago alderwoman and Rey Wences is a community organizer based in Chicago’s Little Village.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Rey, let’s begin with you. You’ve been in the streets. In fact, you went to Adam’s elementary school. Is that right? You, too, went to Gary Elementary School. Talk about what you understand took place and what you’re calling for.

REY WENCES: Yes. What I understand took place is that a Chicago police officer murdered Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old. There is no other way to describe what we saw in the video, as a cold-blooded murder.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the progression of when you heard that Adam was killed and then how the police bodycam footage was released, in addition, what the mayor said.

REY WENCES: Yes. I live in Little Village. This community is pretty close. There’s many groups that just communicate via different text message groups and things like that. So, the night that Adam was murdered, the community already knew that something had happened. Myself, I live in a block a couple of blocks away where he was murdered. And the reaction was instant. Community members already knew that the Chicago Police Department would try to cover this up.

It is also disgusting, the way in which the city has managed this. Shortly after finding out that Adam had been murdered, we also found out that his mom had gone to the Chicago police district office, District 10, to report that Adam had been missing. And it took two days for his mother to find out that he had been murdered by the Chicago Police Department.

So, the reaction and the feeling in the community is of outrage, anger, disgust. And really, what we’re asking for is the same thing that we’ve been asking for years. Since Laquan McDonald was murdered and before, we’ve been asking to defund the police, to invest in our communities. And when the city — when the mayor goes on a press conference and cannot answer the question of how the city could have prevented this, that means that she’s not listening to the people that have been telling her, “Defund the police.” These are the reasons why people get murdered, because they think that more training will save lives, but actually it’s the complete opposite, as we have seen.

AMY GOODMAN: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke at a news conference Thursday ahead of the release of the police bodycam footage of the officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT: Even as our understanding of this incident continues to evolve, this remains a complicated and nuanced story. And we all must proceed with deep empathy and calm and, importantly, peace. … As the investigation into the police shooting that took Adam’s life continues, I urge everyone: Reserve judgment until the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — that’s COPA — has done its work.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is another clip of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaking yesterday.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT: We have to do more, starting with reforming the Chicago Police Department’s policies, and particularly the foot pursuit policy. I said this in August of 2018, and here we are now in 2021. Foot pursuits put everyone involved at risk — the officers, the person being pursued and bystanders. We have to do better.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. I want to bring in Chicago Alderwoman Rossana Rodríguez. If you can respond to the release of the footage, and what you learned from this footage — clearly, the city was preparing, the mayor was preparing the city for it — that was different from what you understood happened before?

ALD. ROSSANA RODRÍGUEZ-SANCHEZ: Well, absolutely, it was a very different — very different story, once we had an opportunity to see the video. And I feel like, for almost two weeks, we kept hearing arguments disparaging the character of a 13-year-old, talking about two sides, talking about the feelings and the trauma of officers. And when we had the opportunity to finally see the video, what we saw was a very scared 13-year-old kid that was complying with the orders of the officer, that was raising his hands. And it has been devastating for all of us. We feel a little bit more broken today in the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Rossana Rodríguez, you’re a mom, as well?

ALD. ROSSANA RODRÍGUEZ-SANCHEZ: I am. I cannot watch that video without seeing my child’s face on it, because that could be any of our children that are outside in the community.

AMY GOODMAN: You think about the way young people are treated who are white versus Black and Latinx. I think of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, who had a long gun, who was given water by police, who gunned down two Black Lives Matter activists. And even as people pointed to him and the police were there, he was able to walk away. He gunned them down and killed them.

ALD. ROSSANA RODRÍGUEZ-SANCHEZ: Oh, absolutely. The lack of respect for the lives of people of color nationally by police, but particularly in the city of Chicago, what we have seen, it’s incredible. This would not have happened in a white neighborhood in Chicago. This would not have happened in a wealthy white neighborhood. A young person in that context would have been given the benefit of the doubt. And that did not happen with Adam. Adam was executed without even being given a chance to fully comply with the orders of the officer.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you calling for, as an alderwoman in Chicago?

ALD. ROSSANA RODRÍGUEZ-SANCHEZ: So, we have been making a really big push in the city of Chicago with other socialists and progressives to reallocate money from police and put it into services for our communities and into resources for our communities. It seems to me that this city — and nationally, but particularly in Chicago — we continue to be obsessed with punishment, obsessed with deploying the police to communities. COVID has hit us, and the service that we have readily available to provide to people was police. Police was doing wellness checks. The mayor of Chicago spent $281 million reimbursing the police for COVID expenses, at a moment when there is so much need.

If we don’t want young people to be in gangs, then we need to give them the resources that they need. We need to meet the needs of communities. And it is unquestionable that we are spending $1.7 billion in police in Chicago to have these results. The Chicago Police Department has not complied with a consent decree for the third year in a row. They have missed the majority of the deadlines for the consent decree trying to reform itself. The Chicago Police Department has demonstrated that it is resistant to reform.

And the only way forward now is to reduce contact with the public, to defund police so that we can fund the services that are actually going to keep our communities healthy and whole and are going to be able to heal our communities. One of the things that I introduced was Treatment Not Trauma, which would deploy clinicians and EMTs to deal with mental health emergencies and nonviolent emergencies, just like the CAHOOTS model in Eugene. We’re being fought on this. And there’s no need to. The mayor allocated $1 million for a pilot for emergency crisis response, when what we’re seeing in cities like L.A. or New York is $23 million, $25 million allocated for this kind of work. It is impossible to heal this city if we continue putting money into the police.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Lightfoot’s response, appointed as president of the Chicago Police Board by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel before she became mayor?

ALD. ROSSANA RODRÍGUEZ-SANCHEZ: Lori Lightfoot ran as a reformer. She ran on transparency. She’s doing exactly the opposite of that. We have a unity ordinance right now that could create a civilian police accountability board. She’s resisting it. She doesn’t want it, even though she ran on it. So, I am incredibly disappointed in this mayor. And we’re going to continue to fight to get transparency despite of the mayor.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, released a statement about her son. She said, “He had a big imagination and curiosity since he was a little baby. He was goofy and always cracking jokes, making everyone laugh. He loved animals and riding his bike. Adam was really into zombies. And the zombie apocalypse. He even had this zombie apocalypse bag packed and ready to go.”

Rey Wences, if you can talk about the narratives that were put forward before this video was released, in the last weeks, to demonize him, particularly around gangs?

REY WENCES: Yeah. I mean, just listening and reading the statement that the mom gave, it really breaks my heart.

The ways in which Adam has been characterized in the last two weeks have been really disturbing. There were many instances that media, even local media, played into this by basically questioning his humanity, asking why he was out there at 2:30 in the morning. And the reality is, is that this is an ongoing narrative about young people, about Black and Brown boys in neighborhoods like Little Village, like North Lawndale, like Englewood, where it’s dangerous to be a young boy and be out.

You know, part of this community has also been organizing against the gang database, because we know just how entrenched this idea of, like Rossana was saying, punishing is in the Chicago Police Department and how they surveil us. And what happened to Adam is the culmination of just a lot of things that have been happening in this neighborhood.

AMY GOODMAN: Rey, what are the plans, as we wrap up, for the weekend in terms of protests in the streets?

REY WENCES: Yes, we’re taking the streets. We’re going to Logan Square, which is the neighborhood where Lori Lightfoot lives. This is the message that we’re sending to Lightfoot: She must resign. So should the superintendent. There’s just no room for reform, and there will not be room for reform. We are calling for abolishing the police, and we are calling for the funding of our communities and divesting from police.

And part of the reason why we’re doing this is because things like this will happen, continue to happen, if change doesn’t come. Adam was two weeks ago. But before Adam, there was Mike. Before Mike, there was Trayvon. And we can come back as to Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald. This city is failing young people. And we must take the streets and demand justice for Adam, but also justice for our communities. This is not fair.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Of course, we will continue to cover this. Rey Wences, community organizer based in Chicago’s Little Village, and Chicago Alderwoman Rossana Rodríguez, both of them speaking to us from Chicago.

When we come back, we look at how one of Derek Chauvin’s expert witnesses, the former medical examiner of Maryland, is being sued by the family of Anton Black, a teenager killed by police in Maryland. Stay with us.

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