In the moments after the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, officers on the scene, including the one who fired the shot, immediately began trying to save the boy’s life.
The officer, Eric Stillman, can be heard on body camera footage calling repeatedly for an ambulance.
“I need a medical kit!” Stillman shouts to other officers on the scene.
Then: “I’m gonna start CPR. I’m not feeling a heartbeat,” Stillman says, while another officer tries to bandage the gunshot wound.
It’s a devastating sequence. It’s also a dramatically different response than can be seen in the aftermath of other Chicago police shooting videos, including the video of the 2014 police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. In that shooting, Chicago police officers stood around as McDonald lay crumpled in the road — never doing anything except kicking a knife out of his hand as he lay dying.
The outcry over that video prompted numerous changes to policing in Chicago, including the adoption of a policy instructing officers to give life-saving aid after shooting or injuring someone.
In this most recent police shooting video, the life-saving efforts are urgent but, ultimately, futile. Some say even though the medical treatment did not save Adam’s life, the effort is a sign some things have changed for the better in the years since McDonald’s killing. Others believe it’s emblematic that whatever changes have been made, they are not nearly enough.
“It was a stark difference,” Sharon Fairley said of the response she saw in the Adam Toledo video compared to incidents in years past.
Fairley, a law professor at the University of Chicago, used to head the Chicago agency that investigates police shootings.
Fairley said she still thinks of the 2016 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal, who was unarmed and was shot by Chicago police after a chase.
“Young Paul O’Neal was shot, and he’s lying on the ground, and he’s just left there,” Fairley said. “They’re just standing around waiting for the ambulance to show up, and they’re not doing anything to help him.”
About three months after that shooting, Fairley, then head of Chicago’s now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority, recommended the Police Department revise its policies and mandate medical treatment be given after shootings.
“I can’t even explain to you how many times I had been on these scenes and I’ve looked at these videos and the lack of medical attention is patently obvious,” Fairley said. “And to see it being done here [with Adam], it definitely stood out to me. And it’s clear that that’s a result of the policy change.”
In 2017, the Department adopted a new use of force policy mandating that officers call for medical care after shooting someone, and instructing that officers “may” give medical treatment on their own. That policy has since been revised again. The new policy, which took effect on Thursday, requires officers to provide life saving aid consistent with their training.
The court-enforced police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, mandates that “all CPD officers receive Law Enforcement Medical and Rescue Training.”
Department spokesman Luis Agostini said 92% of officers have received that medical training.
Northwestern University Law Professor Sheila Bedi, who is a police reform expert, said the response following the shooting of Adam Toledo demonstrates that the new policy and training has resulted in “some improvement in the fact that the police officers attempted aid and didn’t just stand by and watch a teenager bleed out on the street.”
“The next question really needs to be, ‘Is that enough?’ And is that what our teenagers are due — police officers who shoot them, and then engage in sort of the bare minimum of medical aid after they shoot them in the chest?” Bedi said.
Bedi said Adam’s killing proves the Department “simply can’t be reformed” in a meaningful way.
Rev. Marvin Hunter, the great-uncle of Laquan McDonald, said when he watched the video of Adam’s killing, he immediately noticed the difference between how officers treated his great-nephew and how they treated Adam.
“There was no mercy for [Laquan]. The police officer in this case showed empathy towards another human being,” Hunter said.
But he pushed back on the idea that that empathy demonstrated meaningful change since McDonald was gunned down by officer Jason Van Dyke.
“The policy changes that have taken place since the death of Laquan McDonald have amounted to putting a Band-Aid over a bullet wound,” Hunter said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an inaccurate publication date. The story published on April 18, 2021.