With the arrest and successful prosecution of George Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, many thought a new era of police accountability was at hand. However, around the time the Minneapolis verdict was announced, material showing the murder of a young black child by the police was published only a few hundred miles away.
The victim, Adam Toledo, was a 13-year-old boy who was shot in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. The footage is pretty illustrative, and for the sake of everyone’s sanity and out of respect for Toledo and his family, I’m going to link one items The timeline of the murder is recorded here so that no one has to see it for themselves.
The gist is not too shocking given the recent influx of video of this nature. A young black person was shot dead at close range while apparently unarmed. The body camera footage was withheld for weeks as a court order was required to share footage with minors, but the response was quick on release. Protests enveloped Chicago and the nation, with renewed calls for police accountability and an end to the cycle of violence.
The story doesn’t start there, however. Chicago is a special case in the United States when it comes to violence and police. The reason for that? Chicago’s extensive history of institutional racism.
Chicago is considered by many to be the archetypal American city. With a population of around three million, Chicago is the third largest American city and the largest city in the American Midwest.
It’s also a particularly diverse city, attracting thousands of immigrants from around the world, including Jews, Italians, and Poles, during the 19th and 20th centuries. It also has a large black community that makes up around a third of the population and is the second largest ethnic group in the city. The Chicago metropolitan area actually has the third largest African American population, behind only New York City and Atlanta.
While blacks had been part of Chicago’s history almost from its inception, they made up an increasingly large part of the population during the great migrations when southern blacks left in droves in search of economic opportunity and escaped segregation. Chicago’s black population rose from 40,000 in 1910 to 278,000 in 1940.
However, they were not welcomed with open arms. White Chicagoans feared this new demographic shift, and the immigrant community in Chicago loathed the newfound economic conditions. Because of this, the city of Chicago began to use segregationist practices.
I spoke to a friend from Chicago, Dahlia Mella-Goris, who shared some of her experiences as an Afro-Latina in the city. Expressing how clearly the effects of segregation are being felt today, she said that even now, when she tells people that she is from Humboldt Park, she automatically assumes she is of Puerto Rican descent, the dominant one ethnic group of the region.
Black people struggled to find work and, due to redlining, were limited to living only in certain areas of the city – mostly on the south side. Black people have also been banned from membership in popular city organizations such as YMCAs, churches, and PTAs.
This, combined with the white escape in the 1950s and 1960s, has contributed to the situation in the city today. Chicago currently has one of the highest homicide rates in the US, reaching 795 homicides in 2020 – more than Los Angeles and New York combined.
The effects of the history of racism in Chicago are widespread in policing as well. The Chicago Police Force, like many other police departments in American cities, has a long history of abuse, particularly against members of the black community.
In Chicago in 2014, Laquan Mcdonald, an unarmed teenager who was shot 16 times, was murdered. In 2012, the officer who shot an innocent bystander was acquitted. There were over 45 used cases before the police murdered Calvin Cross. They even shot him after he stopped moving. Police brutality is an integral part of the history of racial injustice in Chicago.
Mella-Gorris told me about her own arguments with the CPD, including the time when two officers tried to evict her ex-boyfriend from the streets. Recalling the acquittal of McDonald’s killers, she said, “We sat and cried because we realized that things would never change.”
Additionally, Chicago has a long history of police cover-up and corruption. In the same shooting at Calvin Cross, officials reported that Cross had a gun and even shot it, despite forensics saying otherwise. Similar veins can be found in the murder of Adam Toledo; Police try to hide the footage from the body camera and accuse Toledo of having a gun. This isn’t the first time the Chicago police have lied to live up to their story.
The story of Adam Toledo is in many ways the story of Chicago. A city that was founded on racism and still feels this reverberation today, in which institutional racism abuses black citizens and rewards the brutality of the police Actions and praise.
When Lori Lightfoot became mayor in 2019, many across the country and the city hoped that change would emerge. In fact, Lightfoot ran their campaign as a progressive reform of the criminal justice system.
However, this is not the reality Chicago found itself in. As mentioned earlier, the killings only increased during her tenure, and Lightfoot has been a continuous advocate of the CPD. Toledo’s murder of the killers by the police and Lightfoots only helps highlight how little has changed under their leadership. Many, including Mella-Gorris, have called for their resignation.
The story of Chicago’s history of racism did not begin with the murder of Adam Toledo. This story will not end until the institutions that brought about his death are intensely reformed or abolished. It is also important to note, as Mella-Gorris told me, that a black person’s experience in Chicago is not unique to Chicago. The institutions that murdered Adam Toledo exist nationwide. in every city, in every city, in every place.
Chicago is a tragic example of the history of racist police violence in the United States. While many, like Mella-Goris, take pride in calling it their home, the work that needs to be done in order for the city to heal is significant. The murder of Adam Toledo was not inevitable. It shouldn’t have happened. Change is possible – we just have to be ready to do the work.