In the early morning hours of March 29, 2021, Adam Toledo was killed by a Chicago police officer. He was 13 years old.
In the final moments of his life, Adam raised his hands and faced an officer who was pursuing him. When Adam surrendered, the officer shot. Although attempts were made to save his life, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Footage captured by Officer Eric Stillman’s body cam appears to show Adam dropping a handgun seconds before his surrender. For reasons only he knows, Stillman fired an open shot at the unarmed child.
This tragedy is the latest case of law enforcement officials using deadly force against unarmed suspects. An alarming number of the victims have been minorities, but the killing of an adolescent Mexican American boy is particularly worrisome.
During a press conference on April 15, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed the shooting.
"There were a number of forces that met up at two-thirty in the morning on March 29 in an alley, and, simply put, we failed Adam," Lightfoot said.
That is an understatement, but it is not without precedent.
NPR recently detailed a 2017 report issued by the U.S. Justice Department which found that Chicago Police officers "engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that these foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone — including unarmed individuals."
To blame the circumstances of Adam’s death solely on the police is wrong, as what happened to him is symptomatic of a larger societal problem. Economic disparity creates barriers that leave young minorities impoverished at high rates. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 71% of children living in poverty are children of color.
Decades of occupational segregation has impacted the workforce and ushered minorities toward menial labor jobs. It happened to my family. As a child, my mother moved from Puerto Rico to New York City. There were few employment options for her household, as they did not speak English or have formal educations. Janitorial services were their primary source of income.
With fewer paths for success available, minority youth face choices few can comprehend. If you are wondering why a 13-year-old minor would be in possession of a firearm, understand this: We’re all born equal, but systemic inequality produces outcomes relative to one’s environment.
Whether you agree with me or not, one fact is clear: Adam Toledo, a seventh-grade student, is dead. The way his life ended should concern you, and the explanations for his death extend beyond the police.