CHICAGO – One block from the home of Adam Toledo, the seventh student who was fatally shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in March, a group of young people gathered with other volunteers to deliver boxes of groceries to a number of cars on a drizzly Tuesday morning who were in a row in front of the New Life Centers in the Little Village area on the west side of the city.
The 13-year-old’s murder was for the young people in the pantry, who are dealing not only with losing one of their own, but also with a feeling of fear that Adam could easily have been someone, still fresh from them.
“Nobody should ever go through this, especially a 13-year-old,” said 19-year-old Joseu Martinez, who helped pack groceries into cardboard boxes outside the nonprofit. “It really just hurt. It hurt our community. It still hurts. That could have been my little cousin,” he added.
Just over a month after the shooting, many young people in Little Village, a predominantly Latin American neighborhood where Toledo lived and died, say they are still coming to terms with his death and bringing with them a lingering sadness, coupled with an even greater distrust of law enforcement and a system they believe has failed time and time again.
Chicago police officer Eric Stillman, 34, shot dead in Toledo on March 29 after a car chase led her to the end of an alley on the east side of the neighborhood. Stillman’s bodycam footage captured the fatal encounter around 2 a.m. when he shot Toledo in the chest after the teen raised his hands.
The Bodycam footage later showed Stillman lighting a gun on the ground near Toledo, near a 21-year-old man who was later arrested and charged with recklessly discharging a firearm and improper use of a gun by a criminal. as well as endangering a child and violation of probation.
While the Chicago Police Department is conducting an investigation into the shooting, changing reports from Cook County attorneys on whether Toledo had a gun led to the resignation of the county’s first female attorney, Jennifer Coleman, on Wednesday.
“The tragedy of the death of a 13-year-old boy has been clouded by the confusion and frustration my office has caused, and I apologize for that,” Prosecutor Kim Foxx said in a statement.
The shooting added to an already angry distrust between the Chicago Police Department and the city’s fuel color communities. Several mass demonstrations by thousands of protesters took place in the city.
I feel nervous about the police
Aaron Rivas, a street outreach member for youth at risk at New Life Centers who followed Toledo, said his death hit the entire community but hit younger residents particularly hard.
“There are a lot of young kids out here, like Adam, and just knowing that a 13 year old boy has lost his life tells them that there are no guarantees in life. It’s a harsh reality that they unfortunately have a lot to do with, ”he said.
Diego R., 16, who also grew up in Little Village and is only a few years older than Toledo, said he had dreamed of becoming a police officer, but his plans changed after seeing how his community was affected Law enforcement agencies has been dealt with.
“You didn’t have to murder him. I think there could have been another way for the officer to deal with the situation, ”he said. “I don’t even feel safe on my block because of gang bangers, and now that the cops are doing this, I don’t feel safe either,” said Diego, whose last name was withheld to protect his privacy.
Edwin Rabadan, youth program director for Telpochcalli Community Education Project (TCEP), a nonprofit development organization in Little Village, said he had several conversations with grieving children over the past month about the shooting, both alone and in groups.
Many are confused, Rabadan said, because they are taught to trust the police but then see the ramifications of situations like Toledos and find it difficult for them to reconcile.
“Many young people think: what if Adam were one of their friends? In this situation, they could have had someone close by. “
Their concern among the largely minority community goes on as the rate of police killings in Chicago and two of its major suburbs was 1.2 times higher among Latinos and 6.5 times higher among blacks than whites from 2013 to 2017 , according to a Harvard study published last year.
Repetitive violence has had far-reaching implications for young people in their communities, said Aderonke Pederson, a psychiatrist and professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Rather than moving in one direction in healing distrust between the police and black communities, these types of events reinforce the notion that the police are not there as we are for our blacks and browns Children want and our black and brown children take in this information and feel more insecure than any parent would want their children to feel, “she said. Pederson added that these feelings continue to affect children emotionally, physically, and socially, and can lead to a higher risk of mental illness later in life.
Salvador P., 17, who is also part of TCEP, said he felt “very unbalanced about the whole situation with Adam”. The high school graduate, whose last name was withheld to protect his privacy, said he was no longer as comfortable around police officers as he used to be.
His feelings of nervousness are shared by several others, including Yasmin Vivian, 18, a high school graduate. “I just have this intense feeling when I’m with the police, no matter what he looks like or who he is or whether I know him or not. This is how I’ve been feeling lately, especially when I go out. “
A hurtful guilt game
While the youth still vacillates over Toledo’s death, several overwhelming themes have repeatedly emerged from their narratives, including feeling unheard, unprotected, and frustrated by a system they believe they don’t value.
Another painful element for many was the division within the church over who was to blame. Many pointed their fingers at Toledo himself because he was out so late, and also at his mother because they did not know his whereabouts. According to the family lawyer, Toledo’s mother filed a missing persons report for Adam on Saturday, but he came home on Sunday before leaving.
Miguel Gutierrez, 19, another New Life Center volunteer, said he was saddened by the pointer that came quickly after the shooting. “The focus shouldn’t be on Adam’s guilt, that’s not really fair. He was a child. What the police were doing was upset. He had his hands up and they were still shooting him. “
Veronica Gonzalez, 26, a youth group leader at TCEP, said she was frustrated with people continuing to shift the blame from the officer who shot Toledo to the boy and his family.
“People keep forgetting that this was a 13-year-old boy and they have no idea what struggles he or his family went through,” she said.
Because gangs live in the area, it takes a lot of resources and youth-based support to lead children in the right direction, she said. The system failed on several levels in making things like this available to youth like Adam, Gonzalez added.
Chicago police have not confirmed whether Toledo was in a gang or whether the incident that led to his death was gang related.
Diana Franco, 20, who also grew up in Little Village, said she was deeply hurt by the “mean comments” made on the boy and his family on social media.
It is difficult for people to understand the difficulties of living in a minority community with few resources and opportunities for children, she said.
“I think anyone who points their fingers should look at themselves and think about what it feels like to be 13,” she said. “They were just trying to be part of something, to be accepted. You are clueless and you are following whatever is right in front of you and here is the reality that they are gangs. But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. That doesn’t define who you are, ”said Franco, who is the New Life Center’s pantry administrator.
She added that most of the kids in Little Village face similar challenges and many, including her, feel like they are on their own. Sometimes you just want someone to ask how they can help instead of judging, she said. And that is what many youngsters in the neighborhood are struggling with now, she added.
“There are many Adams out there who are lost. But they don’t deserve to be killed. Nobody, nobody, nobody deserves what happened to Adam. “