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For many in Latino community, Adam Toledo police shooting is their Laquan McDonald

The last time we were here was in the wake of the 2015 release of video showing the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Protesters march through Logan Square neighborhood during a rally last week to protest the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago Police officer on March 29th.
Protesters march through Logan Square neighborhood during a rally last week to protest the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago Police officer on March 29th.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The last time we were here was in the wake of the Nov. 24, 2015, release of video revealing the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.

Then, it was the Black community condemning the institutional racism that plagues policing and government systems — in McDonald’s case, foster care and education — that are supposed to nurture youth but too often robs their potential.

After the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, it is the Latino community upbraiding that racism and same entrenched systems that have converged to place on the fatal end of a police officer’s gun yet another young person of color unarmed at the time he was shot.

“Whether it’s 16 shots or just one — another innocent life taken is one shot too many,” lamented U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., who lives in Little Village where the Latino youth was shot in an alley in the early hours of March 29.

Black and Brown communities on the South and West sides have long struggled under disinvestment as resources were poured downtown, lacking adequate community resources and supports to keep youth on track, in school and away from gangs.

But Latino communities additionally can face language and immigration status challenges to solving such issues as high unemployment, poverty, child care, affordable housing and racial inequities in COVID-19 infection rates.

Both communities, however, have been subject to the racism which a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found rampant within the Chicago Police Department after the McDonald killing, subjecting youth to policing through a dehumanized lens, Latino leaders say.

“Adam was unarmed in his last seconds of life, contrary to now-retracted claims by city leadership. Like so many other Latino and Black children confronted by police, he was not afforded the benefit of the doubt that we’ve seen given to white suspects,” the congressman said.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Illinois, a Little Village resident, said the Adam Toledo shooting highlights “decades of policies that perpetuate systemic racism, sanction police brutality and fail our youth.”
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Illinois, a Little Village resident, said the Adam Toledo shooting highlights “decades of policies that perpetuate systemic racism, sanction police brutality and fail our youth.”
Foto de archivo Sun-Times

“As a father, grandfather and community member of La Villita . . . I feel grief, anger and pain. Despite repeated calls for police accountability and systemic reform, Latino and Black youth continue to be killed by police. We failed Adam,” Garcia said.

“We must acknowledge decades of policies that perpetuate systemic racism, sanction police brutality and fail our youth. We need stronger police oversight and accountability, as well as more funding for restorative justice, schools, housing, health care and jobs, so that youth have opportunities to live and succeed.”

CPD continues to plod toward requirements of the historic January 2019 consent decree now governing wide-ranging reforms over community policing and training, use of force, manpower and supervision, and transparency and accountability efforts.

Latino leaders who work with youth and families are weary of reflexive responses tying the tragedy to CPD training, vis-a-vis Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s call for a new foot-pursuit policy. Those leaders say such responses shift the burden to taxpayers and don’t address the race issue.

“This is another Laquan McDonald. This child had his hands up, no weapon in them, contrary to their initial distortion of the truth,” said Maricela Garcia, CEO of Gads Hill Center, a more than 120-year-old Pilsen nonprofit offering early education, after-school programs, mental health services and comprehensive family support to its immigrant families.

According to data analyzed by The Washington Post, Latinos are just behind African Americans among victims of fatal police shootings — a rate of 27 per million versus 36 per million, respectively.

Maricela García reads to Yennya Segura’s daughter at Gads Hill Center in October 2019. Her organization is working to educate people about the 2020 census.
Maricela Garcia, CEO of Gads Hill Center, right, said the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo “is about the dehumanization of people of color, the inability to see us as full human beings.”
Archivo Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

“This tragedy is about dehumanization of people of color, inability to see us as full human beings. We can’t keep going back to strategies that don’t work — more training, more equipment — without addressing institutionalized racism,” Maricela Garcia said.

“It’s time to stop blaming the victim. Recognize that many of these behaviors are a cry for help. Many of our youth are in very challenging circumstances that derail potential. Instead of trying to solve youth violence through punitive means, we need to start making investments in neighborhoods where Black and Brown children live.”

State Sen. Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas agreed. She points to research by the Erikson Institute showing the numbers of children under age 5 living in high-homicide areas — with attendant exposure to violence and trauma — is rising.

Harmful to children’s development in the critical first five years, it has lasting mental health consequences, noted Pacione-Zayas, former longtime co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda. A board member of the Illinois State Board of Education, she was associate vice president of policy at Erikson before being picked to represent the Northwest Side 20th District.

“Whenever I see young people, I can’t help but see them as somebody’s baby, which can help soften how we view situations. Watching that video, I thought of his mom. When she carried him in the womb, this was not her intent, for it to end this way — not only violently but publicly,” she lamented.

Cristina Pacione-Zayas
State Sen. Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas says police do not view Black and Brown youth with the same sensitivities they demonstrate with white youth.
Erikson Institute

Like McDonald, Adam had a learning disability and an Individualized Education Plan, noted Pacione-Zayas, comparing their treatment to that of white teen Kyle Rittenhouse, charged with killing two people at a protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“When thinking of deploying anti-violence resources, the city needs to understand it has to be from a holistic perspective. Recognize the mental health impact of that violence, and reallocate funds to address root causes. It’s illogical to continue dumping resources into the police department when we are not seeing different outcomes.”

For Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), the tragedy reaffirms the need to yank power over CPD leadership and operations from the mayor and give it to a civilian-led oversight commission. Lightfoot has balked at a compromise ordinance proposed by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), and Civilian Police Accountability Council.

“Adam was killed five blocks from my office, and lived three blocks from my house. He had his hands up, without anything in his hands. He should not have been shot,” said Rodriguez.

“I was at his wake Thursday and saw the pain of this family. No mother deserves to lay their son to rest at age 13. There’s a toxic police culture that doesn’t hold their own accountable, so it’s left to the community to do so. It’s time for City Council to take action and pass this groundbreaking ordinance.”

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) speaks during a press conference at City Hall in the Loop, Tuesday morning, Feb. 23, 2021, where Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed the Welcoming City Ordinance. The ordinance offers more protection to undocumented immigrants and prevents the Chicago Police Department from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in some cases.
For Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), the police shooting of Adam Toledo reaffirms the need to yank power over CPD leadership, policies and budget from the mayor and City Council.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“We need to do better to identify our young people most at risk of becoming victims and perpetrators of violence, and double down in our outreach efforts to prevent that violence, mental health supports, and efforts to keep young people gainfully engaged in school.”

That’s part of the mission at Latino Policy Forum, Illinois’ lone Latino public policy and advocacy organization crafting pathways to move government policy toward improving education outcomes, affordable housing, immigration rules and community leadership.

“Our hearts go out to Adam’s family,” said Sylvia Fuente, the forum’s president and CEO.

“Talking to family and friends about this, what I keep thinking is that any parent who has had a teenage child knows they go through stages of rebellion. There is something wrong with our society when we see a small boy like Adam and shoot, rather than de-escalate.

“We really have to have a larger conversation to shift societal consciousness — including with the police — to truly value Black and Brown lives and not always see them as a threat. It’s past time to address the larger issues. We need resources to enfold and wrap every child in the city of Chicago with supportive services and opportunities to reach their potential.”

Sylvia Fuente is president/CEO of Latino Policy Forum, an advocacy group crafting pathways to move government policy toward improving education outcomes, affordable housing, immigration rules and community leadership.
“There is something wrong with our society when we see a small boy like Adam and shoot, rather than de-escalate,” said Sylvia Fuente, president and CEO of Latino Policy Forum.
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