Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Monday to hunt down and hold accountable adults responsible for “putting a gun into the hands” of a 13-year-old shot and killed by Chicago police last week.
In promising to hold adults accountable for the circumstances surrounding Adam Toledo’s death, Lightfoot went further than the Chicago Police Department has been willing to go.
The department has said only that a gun was found near Toledo’s body. Neither police nor the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which is investigating the shooting, has said Toledo was holding the gun or aiming it at police when he was chased, shot and killed.
“Let’s be clear. An adult put a gun in a child’s hand. A young and impressionable child. And one who should not have been provided with lethal force. A weapon that could and did irreparably change the course of his life,” the mayor said.
“This happens way too often in our city. And it’s way past time for us to say, ‘No more.’ I have directed the superintendent and the chief of detectives to use every resource to track down the origins of this gun — through tracing, fingerprinting and DNA and any other means — and to find the person responsible for giving it to Adam. I want to bring that person or persons responsible for putting that gun in Adam’s hands to justice.”
Lightfoot did not accuse Chicago street gangs of putting the gun in Adam Toledo’s hands. But she came close.
“Gangs are preying on our most vulnerable, corrupting these young minds with promises of familia and lucre. Like good shepherds, we have to better tend to our flocks to keep the wolves at bay. And when the wolves dare try to take one of ours, we must hit them hard with the staff of a community united against the evils that threaten our youth,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot urged the news media to give Elizabeth Toledo, Adam’s mother, the “respect and space” she needs to grieve the loss of her son and make sense of what happened.
Having lost her own brother “to the streets,” Lightfoot said the Toledo family “needs our support … not our withering judgment.”
“Let us not forget that a mother’s child is dead. … None of us have walked in Ms. Toledo’s shoes and none of us will,” the mayor said.
“This is a complicated story. But it is not my story to tell.”
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) promptly ignored that admonition.
Cardenas said his community is “torn,” asking, “How is it possible that this 13-year-old is in an alley at 2:30 in the morning” when he should have been at home sleeping.
“There’s no passing judgment on this family, on this mom. I can only imagine what she went through. Maybe she didn’t have the tools and the resources,” Cardenas said.
“Maybe the school probably knew something about this young man — or the teachers, or the counselor. Somebody in the neighborhood knew something that this young man was going through, but couldn’t say anything,” he added.
“This young man had nobody. It’s sad to say. Nobody that could help him, except a gang. So, shame on us. I own that,” the alderman said.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability has said police video from the scene of the shooting will be released as soon as possible, but only after the Toledo family had the opportunity to see it first. COPA said officials were working with the Toledo family to arrange a viewing of the “troubling video footage.”
However, the Toledo family, in a statement released Monday by attorneys, said it had not received confirmation of a time to view the video.
Also on Monday, Lightfoot said she has directed CPD Supt. David Brown to draft and implement a new foot pursuit policy in time for the traditional summer surge of violence, a move that drew praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
Noting that Adam Toledo was shot and killed during a foot pursuit, the mayor said such chases present a “significant safety issue” — for police, those pursued and for innocent bystanders.
“It is one of the most dangerous things that they engage in. They often get separated from their partners. Communication is difficult. You’re running through a dense, urban environment. An alley, a street, a backyard,” Lightfoot said. “It’s way past time that we reckon with this reality that happens literally multiple times every day across many neighborhoods in our city, hundreds of times a year.”
The city, in fact, has been reforming the foot-chase procedures since the Department of Justice in 2017 issued a damning report about “poor police practices” in Chicago, including “tactically unsound foot pursuits.”
The report said such pursuits sometimes ended in police shooting people they were chasing just because they ran away — not because they were suspected of a serious crime. Adrenaline and fatigue were listed as factors in cops shooting people in foot chases, the report said.
That Justice Department report led to a court-ordered consent decree requiring hundreds of reforms to police practices, including foot chases. The latest report from an independent monitor said the police were close to complying with those requirements for foot chases, including better training and tracking foot pursuits that end in the use of force.
Between March 2020 and the end of the year, there were more than 1,300 such pursuits, 382 of which involved the use of force by a police officer, the monitor’s report said. The ACLU said the city and police department have “resisted repeated calls” from criminal-justice advocates to reform the way it does foot pursuits, saying it is “long overdue.”
Also Monday, Brown was asked about an “officer safety alert” warning officers that the narcotics unit has learned that some Latin Kings were “instructed by ranking members to shoot at unmarked police vehicles.”
The alert, sent out Thursday, said factions of the gang planned to retaliate following the fatal shooting of Adam Toledo at about 2 a.m. March 29 in an alley in the 2400 block of South Sawyer.
“We’re in agreement with the Toledo family in calling for peace. That they would not be representing Adam’s death in the most appropriate way if anyone is calling for violence,” Brown said.
“I want to answer that question specifically by holding up the family’s concern that no one retaliate, no one metes out any type of violence.”
Lightfoot was asked how concerned she is about the threat to police officers’ safety. She pointed to the “unprecedented number” of 79 officers shot at last year. She can’t remember it being that high in the last 20 years.
“My hope is that these gang members aren’t foolish enough to do something. But I am determined. We will find the person who put this gun in Adam’s hand. We will not be deterred by threats from gang members,” she said.
“An adult must be [held] responsible for putting a gun in a child’s hand. We have an obligation to his family, to this community and all over our city to say to gang members and others, ‘We will not tolerate you using our children as pawns and setting them up for a life of misery.’ That’s what’s happening in way too many communities. And here’s where we must, must draw the line.”