“I grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood. I don’t know a Latino who didn’t,” said Luis Gutierrez, the former congressman and long-ago alderman. “We all grew up together. It wasn’t like ‘West Side Story.’ We didn’t dance around each other.
“I remember the manipulation, the cruelty, the exploitive nature of gang members. People like to think of them as the protectors of the neighborhood. I get that. I was the alderman of the 26th Ward. It’s no different than Little Village. None.”
We were talking over the weekend about what everybody in Chicago has been talking about since Thursday, when the bodycam video of Little Village 13-year-old Adam Toledo being shot by a police officer was released.
The footage makes for sickening viewing: the jumpy chase through an alley; the barked, ignored commands; the boy’s hands going up followed instantly by the gunshot. The red blood. Watching it once, I can’t imagine ever watching it again. Once is too much.
I had just read the upbeat update about Gutierrez that Mark Brown wrote last week; Gutierrez has returned to Chicago to welcome his second grandchild — his daughter Jessica’s baby shower was Saturday — and to promote Puerto Rican causes.
So I almost shook off Gutierrez’s suggestion that we speak about the shooting. My job isn’t to echo Mark. Yet why not see what Gutierrez has to say? My first question was whether he truly wants to plunge into this emotional maelstrom. Or as I put it: “Do you really want to jam your hand into this spinning fan?”
“I understand that,” he said. “But at some point you have to stop and say something. I feel that what is happening to Adam is a second demonization process.”
Some Latino politicians are dismissing Toledo as just another gang-banger who got what gang-bangers get.
“One thing is irrefutable: He was 13 years old,” said Gutierrez. “He was a child. All of this, ‘What was he doing out in 2:30 in the morning?’ I guess that’s a death sentence in Chicago. When I see this young man, I say to myself, ‘Wow, once again he’s being exploited and manipulated by adult gang members who basically trafficked him.’”
Gutierrez issued a letter condemning Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who went on Fox News and lauded the “amazing restraint” of the police officer who shot Toledo. Lopez didn’t explain exactly how that “restraint” manifested itself; maybe by not shooting him in the back as he ran, maybe by firing only once and not the 16 times that is traditional.
“What kind of internalized self-loathing and self-hatred who you are and who you pretend to represent exists in that alderman?” Gutierrez asked. “Because that’s the only way I could figure it out.”
I observed that the adult with Toledo certainly managed to allow himself to be arrested without harm.
“The 21-year-old is smart,” Gutierrez replied. “He said to himself, ‘Give the gun to the 13-year-old kid.’ That’s what they do, an act of cowardice; he gives the gun to the child, puts the child directly in the line of fire. Those are gangs, it’s what they do.
“There is little or no difference what I’ve seen in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. People flee to come here, to get their children here. What their mothers go through, to get their children out of Central America. I’m not going to say it’s exactly the same. This is not a Third World country. But there are many of the same attributes. The gang infestation. Let’s not sugarcoat what’s going on here.”
Even though the bar of ineptness and deceit has been set pretty low, I was still surprised by the City Hall spin over the two weeks leading up to the video release. The video obviously was going to be jarring, or it would have been released immediately.
Yet there was Mayor Lori Lightfoot pretending it was going to be exculpatory out of one corner of her mouth while talking about amending foot chase policy out of the other. As horrible as the video was, she found a way to make it worse.
“It accentuates the shock to me,” Gutierrez agreed. “I don’t look much toward the mayor.”
You, me and everybody else. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx also did what Kim Foxx does: botched the situation.
“I look at the prosecutor as someone who could have said something much earlier,” he continued. “That’s why I stayed quiet, didn’t join in. I said to myself, ‘We don’t know all the facts.’ The prosecutor certainly would not say this is an armed confrontation unless he had a gun in his hand. It silenced me, and said ‘Shut up, don’t say anything.’ Then I saw it and realized they LIED to us. Clearly, they lied to us.”
Gutierrez described the shooting as “an execution.” Did he really believe the officer deliberately killed Toledo? That it wasn’t a split-second mistake?
“Here’s what I believe: He didn’t give a s—-,” Gutierrez said. “This cop didn’t give a s—- about this kid. He just didn’t. He didn’t see the value, the humanity, of this unarmed 13-year-old CHILD ... He’s a little brown boy, so he gets turned into a man, he gets turned into a gun, his life becomes reduced.”
Now that we’ve gone over what happened, the hard question: What to do?
“What we really need is a very energetic, a very robust conversation among ourselves,” he said, tearing up. “Let’s use our leadership. We have to make sure there’s not another Adam Toledo.
“We can protest. We can condemn. We can praise, as Ald. Lopez did, the actions of the police. But in the end, don’t we need to end this? Don’t we need them to become peace officers rather than police officers? Keepers of the peace.
“I’m proud I represented Little Village for 26 years, so proud,” Gutierrez said. “They’re doing what they have to do. Having their voices heard in a peaceful, nonviolent manner that is going to gain us broader trust and broader support and a solution.”