The release of the Adam Toledo police shooting video could not have come at a more precarious time for Chicago.
Twice targeted by devastating rounds of looting, the city already was bracing for protests tied to a verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial in Minnesota in the killing of George Floyd and the fallout from the police shooting in suburban Minneapolis of Daunte Wright.
The timing is no better for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, now a month away from the midpoint of her four-year term.
The shooting of a 13-year-old in a Little Village alley in the early hours of March 29 after a foot chase — the sort of chase the mayor wants to rein in — has shined an unflattering spotlight on what was supposed to be Lightfoot’s greatest strengths but instead have turned out to be her greatest shortcomings: police reform and public safety.
“We haven’t even reached the two-year mark,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Socialist Caucus. “And already we have the tragic shooting of a child by a police officer. And we have a cover-up of police misconduct in the case of Anjanette Young.
“Voters may, in fact, feel betrayed or feel like they were let down,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “Many of them voted for Lightfoot believing she was going to right the ship at CPD.”
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said that what he saw on the video was a police officer shooting and killing a 13-year-old boy who “stopped and put his hands up when the officer told him to. … A boy whose body was fully open and vulnerable to a police officer’s weapon. What we saw is exactly what happens when police officers are taught that their lives matter more than anyone’s else’s.
“Our system protects the broken notion that Black and Brown children are disposable,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Now is the time to tear down that racist, violent system and fix our city. The mayor doesn’t have any more chances. Our city can’t afford to lose another life.”
Lightfoot made her political bones on the issues of police reform and public safety. She’s a former Chicago Police Board president who co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability amid the furor that followed the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was ordered to release the video of Officer Jason Van Dyke — later convicted of murder — shooting McDonald 16 times after Emanuel was accused of concealing the video until he was safely reelected to his second and final term.
Lightfoot personally drafted the policy that requires the city to release body-camera and dashcam video of police shootings and other incidents involving cop shootings within 60 days.
She promised during her inaugural address to stop the “epidemic of gun violence that devastates families, shatters communities, holds children hostage to fear in their own homes” and leaves their parents wondering “if Chicago is a place where they can continue to live and raise their children.”
Yet she hits the midway point with crime and violence far worse than when she walked in.
In March, shootings were up by 70% over the same period a year ago. Homicides were up 50%. The number of carjackings more than doubled.
Her hand-picked police superintendent, David Brown, a retired Dallas police chief, seems overwhelmed by the Chicago job as his officers continue to be shot at in record numbers.
Lightfoot also has fallen short on the companion issues of police reform and accountability.
Her administration has been slow to comply with a federal consent decree.
She has failed to deliver the civilian oversight panel she promised in the first 100 days of her administration because of a dispute over the powers she vowed to give them: to hire and fire the police superintendent and be the final arbiter on disputes over police policy.
Lightfoot also has come under fire for changing her story about what she knew and when she knew it regarding the botched raid on the home of Anjanette Young, an innocent woman forced to stand naked, crying and pleading as an all-male team of Chicago cops raided the wrong home.
The mayor initially said she knew nothing about the raid until Channel 2 aired the shocking body-cam video in December.
But the mayor’s own emails revealed she was informed of a “very bad” raid on Young’s home in November 2019 and that she was so alarmed that she asked for a meeting with top aides to discuss it that same day.
Lightfoot admitted there is “a lot of trust in me that’s been breached” by her handling of the raid on Young’s home and vowed to “win back the trust that we have lost.”
She has a long way to go.
“We see the case of Anjanette Young, Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Now, we see Adam Toledo. We are told, time after time, that we need to wait for police accountability. We have a bill right now that has the votes in the council, empowering communities for public safety. It is the bill that we need. The mayor does not have any excuses to delay this vote.”
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) is the prime mover behind a sweeping search-warrant reform that Young has embraced. Hadden has promised to forge ahead with her own ordinance, arguing that it’s stronger in “17 different ways” than reforms outlined in an executive order unveiled by Lightfoot and Brown.
“The mayor has lost some credibility on this issue,” Hadden has said. “So why would people trust her executive order?”
Lightfoot has said she “wears the jacket” for Chicago violence, facing the blame, and that she’s not about to “outsource” control of the Chicago Police Department to a civilian oversight commission.
But those words ring hollow to many at a time violence seems out of control and, in some neighborhoods, people are so fearful of being carjacked that they’re patrolling gas stations to allow female drivers to fill up without fear.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) — the former Chicago police officer who is Lightfoot’s Committee on Public Safety chairman — said the political fallout for the mayor from the Toledo shooting video will be minimal if there even is any fallout.
According to Taliaferro, Lightfoot’s decision to pressure the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability to reverse its policy on withholding shooting videos involving juveniles and instead release the video in record time shows how much things have changed since the uproar over withholding the Laquan McDonald shooting video footage.
“This is an example of the system working,” he said. “Complete accountability. The investigation is occurring. Complete transparency. Videos are being shown only days after the shooting occurred after the family has had an opportunity to view it.
“Reform of our police department and reform of our ability to get these videos out sooner — it’s worked,” Taliaferro said. “I don’t think there’s any fallout because what the mayor has promised the public she actually came through on.”
What about the mayor’s promise of a safer city and swifter compliance with the consent decree?
“Some things are in her control,” Taliaferro said, “and some are not.
“Our department has implemented quite a few reforms in accordance with the consent decree. Have they kept up with the pace that’s been agreed upon by the monitor and the attorney general’s office? No. But they have made some great strides toward that.”
Hours before the video showing Adam Toledo being shot was released, an emotional Lightfoot tried to minimize any political fallout. She said the police department was prepared for the worst and would not be caught off-guard again. She acknowledged that Chicago “failed” the 13-year-old and vowed to use his death at the hands of police as a catalyst to provide constructive alternatives for teenagers like him.
And she promised yet again to reform a police department foot-chase policy that “put everyone at risk: the officers, the person being pursued and bystanders.”
Taliaferro urged the mayor to be careful how far she goes to rein in those chases “at a time when crime is very high.
“If police can’t pursue on foot a fleeing offender, then are we sending a signal to our offenders that they won’t get caught because nobody’s gonna chase behind me?” the alderman said. “That may be sending the wrong message to anybody that’s going to commit a crime or even thinking about committing a crime. It may possibly give them the inclination to go ahead and commit that crime because I know the police won’t chase.”
Taliaferro said police reform is needed, and so are policy changes. But he said it needs to be done in a way that protects Chicago residents and the police officers who serve and protect them.
“If we implement policies that will serve to hurt our residents by police not being able to apprehend an offender because of the lack of a foot chase, then we may be in trouble,” he said. “Our crime rates may skyrocket.”