A shaky and swift video posted in Chicago on Thursday (15) shows a policeman chasing a boy down a dark alley, yelling at him to stop. “Stop right now!” The policeman yells, while swearing, telling him to drop the gun. “Hands, show your hands. Let him go. Let him go! When the boy turns around, raising his hands, a gunshot is heard and the boy falls. Adam Toledo was dead. He was 13 years old.
The release of the police officer’s camera recording sparked a new wave of dismay at the conduct of the Chicago police, while sparking debate over what the footage – grainy and inaccurate – really showed. Campaigners announced protests against police abuse in downtown Chicago, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for calm, even when she was delighted to speak about Adam’s death and her own pain in the video, which she described as “scary”.
Adam, who lived in Little Village, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in western Chicago, was one of the youngest to be killed by police in the state of Illinois in many years.
Videos of deaths during police actions have disturbed the United States. The release of the recording in Chicago comes concurrent with the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former police officer accused of the death of George Floyd, and the indictment of a Minnesota police officer, Kimberly Potter, for the shooting death of Daunte Wright, 20.
In the Chicago case, which occurred in the early hours of March 29, officials said two police officers were responding to complaints of gunfire when they saw two people in an alleyway and started chasing them. Prosecutors said Adam was holding a gun as he ran down the aisle, and the officer asked him to stop and drop the gun.
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, a lawyer representing the Toledo family, told a press conference Thursday that the video shows Adam, a young Hispanic man in seventh grade at Gary Elementary School, attempted to follow orders of the policeman. “He threw the gun away,” she said. “If he had a gun, he threw it away. The policeman said, ‘Show your hands.’ He did as he was told. He turned around.”
The facts unfolded in the space of a second. In one analysis, the New York Times slowed down the police video, along with another of 21 videos released by authorities. When the officer, identified as Eric Stillman, 34, fires a single shot, Adam raises his arms and appears to be empty-handed. Just before the shot, Adam can be seen holding what appears to be a pistol behind his back, which he throws behind a wooden fence just before raising his hands.
After firing, Stillman called an ambulance, searched for the injury, and began the resuscitation procedure with the help of another policeman. “Stay with me,” he said to Adam more than once. The Civil Police Accountability Office, an independent body investigating the Chicago police shootings, released the videos on Thursday, after resisting publication due to Adam’s age.
As the images spread on social media, community activists and others expressed outrage. Some said the police had no reason to shoot the boy. “It was hard to watch,” said Baltazar Enriquez, chairman of the small village community council, saying he viewed the shooting as murder. “Adam puts his hands up, then the policeman shoots him.”
Enriquez said protests are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, with residents demanding money from the police budget be directed to community programs. “Everyone is very angry,” he said. “We don’t need angry police officers. We need social workers.”
Adam’s family were allowed to watch the video on Tuesday evening. The family then released a statement calling the experience “extremely difficult and destructive for everyone present.”
Some details of the events leading up to Adam’s death surfaced in court last week.
Ruben Roman, 21, who authorities said was with Adam at the time of the shooting, testified in Cook County court on Saturday. He was charged with a serious crime, firing recklessly, using an illegal weapon and endangering a child, and was held on $ 150,000 bail.
According to prosecutors, the video shows Roman and Adam walking down a street to the west at around 2:30 a.m. Roman, holding a gun, appears to fire several shots at an unidentified target.
In recent days, Adam’s mother said she had no idea he left on the night of the shooting; she thought he was safe in his room at the time. Adam had been missing for several days, she said, but he had returned home and entered the room he shared with his brother.
Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves