Release of Adam Toledo police body-cam video necessary but painful

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s decision to release the body-cam video is a bold step toward police reform.

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Adam Toledo’s family leaves the Civilian Office of Police Accountability building at 1615 W. Chicago Ave. on Tuesday after watching the police body-camera footage of the fatal police shooting.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For those families that have suffered the devastating blow of losing a teen, the grieving never goes away.

The hurt remains an open wound for the rest of their lives. These mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles go on, but that gaping place is never filled.

So it is with Adam Toledo’s family.

On March 29, a Chicago police officer fatally shot the 13-year-old after a foot chase. The teen was with a 21-year-old male, but he was the one allegedly armed with a handgun.

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The boy’s mother didn’t learn of her son’s death for a couple of days because he did not have identification on him at the time of his death.

No amount of time will erase the pain of those circumstances.

Several years ago, I was sitting in a family’s living room when police knocked on the door and asked the father to identify a photograph. It was his son. The teen had been shot, his body dumped in an alley behind my garage.

I will never forget the sound of his mother’s wails coming from the bedroom. 

Adam’s mother has waited patiently for answers, supported by a small group of peaceful protesters that demanded the release of video from the police officer’s body camera.

On Tuesday, the Toledo family was finally allowed to view that video.

“The experience was extremely difficult and heartbreaking for everyone present and especially for Adam’s family,” attorneys for the family said in a statement.

There is no escaping that hurt, even if the tragic events depicted on the video unfold exactly as police have described.

Adam Toledo was a 13-year-old boy, and his violent death should make us recoil in horror.

Out of deference to his family’s grief, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability decided to delay the release of the police body-cam video until Thursday.

Under the city’s Video Release Policy, video and audio recordings “shall be released to the public no more than 60 calendar days from the date of the incident unless a request is made to delay the release.”

Such requests are usually from investigating agencies or families of persons injured by police.

“[W]hile it is acutely sensitive to the family’s grief and their desire to avoid public release of materials related to Adam’s tragic death, COPA is mandated to comply with the City’s Video Release Policy,” COPA said in a statement Tuesday.

The public has a right to know what happened in a Little Village alley that night, just as it had a right to know what happened in 2014 when Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

It took more than a year before the city released a dash-cam video of the shooting. That long delay led to the ouster of former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, and likely to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to not seek a third term.

How Adam’s case is handled will give the public some insight into how police reform is actually working and answer the questions that activists are asking:

Is the Chicago Police Department more transparent? Are police officers following the training? Is there more that could have been done to disarm a 13-year-old with a gun?

So far the protests over this police shooting have been peaceful, and Adam’s family has asked for “privacy” as they mourn this loss.

But COPA has shown a lot of courage.

Their decision to release the body-cam video now was tough given the violent protests in Brooklyn Center, Minn., over another shocking police shooting. A white female police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop. Kim Potter allegedly fired her weapon when she intended to fire her Taser.

The images of the fatal shot have been shown repeatedly on news broadcasts.

While police bodycams allow the public to view videos of deadly police encounters, they have a down side.

We can turn these images off in our minds and in our hearts. But after Thursday, and for days thereafter, the Toledo family will be forced to relive the worst day of their lives.

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