Chicago cop who shot Adam Toledo is no murderer

I believe the officer who shot the 13-year-old should not be charged with a crime nor treated like a criminal nor be disciplined, though it’s clear he made a grievous and fatal error.

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A still frame from video recorded by a Chicago police officer’s body-worn camera shows Adam Toledo just before he was shot by the officer.

A still frame from video recorded by a Chicago police officer’s body-worn camera shows Adam Toledo just before he was shot by the officer.

Civilian Office of Police Accountability

It all happened so fast.

Barely two and a half minutes after police say Ruben Roman, accompanied by 13-year-old Adam Toledo, fired at a passing car on 24th Street in Little Village, a Chicago police officer shot and killed the boy in a nearby alley.

Two and a half minutes.

Opinion bug


Enough time for Roman, 21, and Adam to run north on Sawyer Avenue before ducking into the L-shaped alley along the back side of Farragut High School.

Enough time for a police dispatcher to report the detection by a ShotSpotter sensor of gunshots in the neighborhood and for two responding police officers to speed into the same alley and engage in a foot chase that would end in the tragic, split-second confrontation.

Enough time for multiple worlds to be turned upside-down. But still just two and a half minutes.

We know how long it took in part because both events were captured on the same video by a security camera at the high school. It points dispassionately over a parking lot toward the gap in the alley fence and beyond to a stoplight at 24th and Kedzie.

I hadn’t noticed the initial incident during the many times I’d viewed the video, my concentration fixed on the alley in anticipation of the foot chase, until I finally saw the blowup version provided by police.

Some say it doesn’t matter what happened before Adam was shot, that the only thing that matters is that his hands were empty and raised at the moment he was killed.

Of course, it matters. It all matters, every fateful second.

I stopped by Little Village to see for myself the site of the shooting. I’m glad I did because the makeshift shrine to the 13-year-old made me more mindful of the pain his death has caused this community.

Stacks of veladoras, the prayer candles popular with Mexican Americans, two basketballs, a football, a soccer ball and unopened boxes of Legos were among the many offerings left at the spot where he died. Weeks after his death, it remains a heartbreaking scene.

Seeing it — feeling it — was a reminder for me to tread softly because I have something to say that will not be popular with many of those who feel affected by the boy’s death.

Based on the evidence available to date, I believe the police officer who shot Adam Toledo should not be charged with a crime. He should not be treated like a criminal. I don’t even think he should be disciplined by the police department, even though it is clear he made a grievous and fatal error.

The officer, who has not been named by the Sun-Times because he has been accused of no crime, is not the latest Derek Chauvin or even the latest Jason Van Dyke. And those who lump them together under the heading of “police violence” are doing no favor to their cause.

This does not denigrate the life of this boy nor does it demean his family. It only recognizes that each case must be decided on its merits. And, in this case, the police officer was justified in believing he needed to defend himself.

To arrive at that conclusion, you don’t even need to apply the legal standard, just the human one: Walk a minute in the other man’s shoes.

A makeshift shrine occupies the gap in the fence where 13-year-old Adam Toledo stopped and was shot by Chicago police officer.

A makeshift shrine occupies the gap in the fence where 13-year-old Adam Toledo stopped and was shot by Chicago police officer.

Mark Brown / Sun-Times

On the night Adam Toledo was killed, two people from Little Village made calls to 911 to report shots fired just after 2:30 a.m.

One came from a man, the other from a woman.

Both callers sounded concerned but not panicked the way some people might be, the way I might be if it happened outside my home, perhaps because this is a neighborhood accustomed to the sound of gunshots.

The recordings of their calls got me thinking: What do people want when they call 911 to report gunfire?

They want the police to respond. And they want them to respond quickly. They want the police to do something. To catch the person with the gun if possible. To do what they can to make the gunfire stop.

If that means chasing those believed responsible, then they want them chased, even down a dark alley if that’s what it requires.

This is society’s expectation. It is the responsibility we place on police. It’s why we arm them with guns.

In return, we make a pact with the police: If officers act in good faith, if they conduct themselves reasonably, if they carry out their duties as they have been trained within the law, then we will allow them to use their guns to protect themselves.

I’m very much aware that I’m the old, white guy in this conversation that, in part, is about racism and, on top of that, someone who tends to view the police in a more sympathetic light.

So it’s fair that you might wonder how I reacted to the video of Adam’s death.

I cried. My chest heaved. I turned it off and walked away. Then, I returned and watched it again to the end.

As I did, I grieved for the boy, and I grieved for his family, and I grieved for the police officer and his family — and for our city.

If you really watched the video, then you know the police officer was distraught in the knowledge he had taken a life.

He had no way of knowing Adam Toledo was 13 years old, no way of knowing his gun was empty of ammunition.

But he knew someone had fired a gun and that this young male was carrying a gun and that sometimes young males fire their guns at the police.

Some people say Adam Toledo did everything right and was shot anyway. But he didn’t do everything right. He was at the scene of a shooting. When the police arrived, he was carrying a gun. And he ran.

And then, when he was caught, he foolishly tried to ditch the gun, without the police officer noticing, in the process shielding the officer’s view of the hand holding the gun as he turned.

Then, as he raised his hands in surrender, the police officer fired.

In hindsight, we know pulling the trigger was the wrong decision. But can any of us say we wouldn’t have done the same thing if we were in his shoes?

That’s what I see on those recordings, though only after slowing them down. I defy anyone to watch the videos in real time and tell me they could see what happened.

Some argue that the police need to change their tactics, end foot chases or perform them differently. Maybe so. It’s worth a discussion. But you can’t impose that standard after the fact on this police officer.

And, remember, it all happened so fast.

Editor’s note: The column previously misreported Adam’s height, and the column has been edited to remove that error.

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