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Lightfoot says Chicago ‘failed’ Adam Toledo, vows to do more to save teens like him

“We live in a city that is traumatized by a long history of police violence and misconduct,” Lightfoot said. “It is certainly understandable why so many of our residents are feeling that all-too-familiar surge of outrage and pain.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses the videos of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer, during a news conference at City Hall, Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses the videos of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer, during a news conference at City Hall, Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

An emotional Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Thursday that Chicago “failed” 13-year-old Adam Toledo and vowed to use his death at the hands of police as a catalyst to provide constructive alternatives for teenagers like him.

“Simply put, we failed Adam. And we cannot afford to fail one more young person in our city. . . . We must do more to help children like Adam before they end up in encounters like this one,” the mayor said.

“Sometimes, the streets are every bit as seductive and powerful as a narcotic. Families do everything they can — moms, dads, grandparents — to love and support their children. But they’re fighting against powerful, powerful forces. We’ve got to give them the tools that they need to be able to support and keep their children from harm.”

Hours before the release of a shooting video she called “incredibly difficult to watch, particularly at the end,” Lightfoot choked back tears as she urged Chicagoans to stay calm and reserve judgment until the Civilian Office of Police Accountability completes its investigation.

Lightfoot knows better than anyone how difficult it will be to avoid a rush to judgment.

She’s a former Police Board president who co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability created by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

“Chicago . . . has a long legacy of police violence and police misconduct that have left far too many residents, especially those who are Black and Brown — in a constant state of fear and pain,” she said.

“It is certainly understandable why so many of our residents are feeling an all-too-familiar surge of outrage and pain,” the mayor added.

“It’s even clearer that trust between our communities and law enforcement is far from healed and remains badly broken. This lack of trust makes it even more difficult for many of us to wait and hear all the facts before making up our mind in tragedies [like] this. But I urge each resident who cares and loves this city. Let’s wait until we hear all the facts.”

The mayor said “two facts are clear” from the videos she watched: Adam was in contact with an adult with a gun and ended up being chased on foot and killed by police. And there are too many young people in Chicago — “boys and girls alike” — who have been left “vulnerable by systemic failures that we simply must fix.”

One failure is the “cancerous role of illegal firearms that plague every Chicago community.” The federal government simply must do more to stop the never-ending pipeline of guns that flow onto Chicago streets, she said.

Another is the desperate and long-overdue need to rein in foot pursuits, like the one that culminated in Adam Toledo’s death in a dark alley in Little Village in the early-morning hours of March 29.

“I said this in August of 2018 and here we are now in 2021: Foot pursuits put everyone involved at risk: the officers, the person being pursued and bystanders. We have to do better. And I have charged the superintendent with bringing to me a policy that recognizes how dangerous this is. We can’t afford to lose more lives,” she said.

The normally-steely Lightfoot nearly broke down in tears as she talked about what she views as the most pressing concern exposed by Adam’s death: The need to prevent yet another Chicago teenager from falling through the cracks.

“I’ve sat in too many circles watching these young people, who are beautiful and magnificent, but traumatized by the violence that they experience every day. . . . We’ve got to do things differently to change around their fortunes. We owe it to them to do better,” she said.

Lightfoot recalled what happened last weekend when she convened a meeting of the Mayor’s Youth Commission. A young man from Little Village talked about the lifetime he has spent walking past murals with a “growing list of names” of gun violence victims.

“We can’t have that be what our young people experience in our city. It will take all of us to turn this around,” she said.

Lightfoot noted there is “a lot of trauma that our young people have been living with for a long time” that has been “exacerbated by the pandemic, where they feel isolated and unattached.”

“Those are the breeding grounds for young people who are vulnerable to be swept up by those who have a different agenda, a different plan, but nothing good for them,” she said.

“This moment, where a family did everything that they could and still this happened. . . . This is an important moment for us to take stock, to listen and then reinvest in strategic ways that are going to really improve the quality of young peoples’ lives.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot hugs Karina Ayala-Bermejo, of Instituto Del Progreso, after discussing the videos of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer, during a news conference at City Hall, Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot hugs Karina Ayala-Bermejo, of Instituto Del Progreso, after discussing the videos of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer, during a news conference at City Hall, Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times