So, should the cop have waited another second? Maybe. What would you do were you in his position? Don’t be so sure.
Wait, wait, wait before making any more resounding damnations.
A 13-year-old boy was shot dead by a Chicago policeman. He had his hands up. It was murder, an assassination! Thousands perhaps march in protest, many carrying pickets calling for police to stop killing our children. The pain and shame of Adam Toledo’s death cuts to the heart.
But . . . let’s take this scene into some of its many parts.
Indeed, Adam was raising his hands in the stop-action video we all saw. It also appears that he had a gun in his hand less than a second before. Shots had been fired, a cop is chasing a guy with a gun down an alley at two in the morning, shouting for the gun to be dropped. He doesn’t know the gunman is a 13-year-old. When the gunman turns, quite likely the cop doesn’t know the gun had just been discarded. That image doesn’t show on body cam footage, only from another camera mounted nearby.
So, should the cop have waited another second? Maybe. What would you do were you in his position? Don’t be so sure. In any case, accusations of assassination and murder go beyond the awful truth of this shooting.
Next. What was Adam doing out on the streets at two in the morning? Are you going to blame Adam’s parents? From all we can tell his mother is a loving and attentive parent. In the best of homes in the best of neighborhoods, teenagers get into dangerous situations, often unbeknown to their parents. Add to this the lure and threat of the streets in Little Village and other poverty-stricken parts of Chicago where gangs recruit the young, often with threats. What light penalty awaits the man who put the gun in Adam’s hand?
Are cops killing the young in our city? No, overwhelmingly it is the young killing the young. Still. Policing here and everywhere else in the country needs serious reform. For instance, cops rarely need to pull out their guns in making a traffic stop. Cops lie, constantly, whether to protect themselves or a fellow cop or, often, in an effort to bolster evidence. Racism is pervasive, often causing fear in the ones who harbor it, leading to their bullying, overcharging and, at its worst, serious physical harm or death to its victims.
So, punish and get rid of misbehaving cops. Give no leeway to those who lie to give cover to fellow officers. Seek better ways to give pursuit. Maintain strict procedures on pulling out guns. Train cops to identify miscreants with mental health issues and create special teams to aid in such situations. Be forceful in identifying and taking action against racist talk and behavior.
Surely there is need for more, as outlined in an ongoing federal consent decree to revise the policies and practices of the Chicago Police Department. But, whatever, get serious about “defunding” the police. We need them to serve and protect.
While not all the shootings and murders in the city are traceable to gangs, they certainly account for a major share. And most in some way pertain to drug dealing, territorial disputes and whatnot. We call on the police to clean up their messes, but how willing are we to provide resources to drug addicts, the markets for gang wares? Still more, how willing are we as a city ready to put more public money into stressed neighborhoods — money for better schools, for more physical and mental health services, for economic development, for family support.
Family support . . . That brings us back to Adam and his mother.
There’s no guarantee that increased income would have saved Adam from a policeman’s bullet, but odds are overwhelming that it would. Income is always the key factor in comparative living standards. Thousands are there to march in protest, but where are the thousands willing to tax themselves to better the incomes of others? How many thousands have marched to City Hall, Springfield and Washington to demand it?
The poet Wislawa Szymborski asked in a poem called “Hatred”: “Has compassion ever first across the finish line?”
So, I say wait, wait, wait to condemn. Instead, act now to give compassion a win. Adam Toledo deserved it.
Roger Flaherty is a retired Sun-Times reporter and city desk editor.
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