Aaron Rivas said he understands why police officers might be afraid when they’re out patrolling in his Chicago neighborhood of Little Village.
But in a tear-streaked speech Monday evening, Rivas implored those officers to make the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo a turning point in their relationship with the people they are sworn to protect.
Adam, a seventh grader, was killed by a single gunshot last week fired by an officer responding to a potential shooting, according to police. In a press conference Monday about the incident, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ruminated on officers with their “adrenaline pumping,” forced to patrol in a “dense” and “dark urban environment.” Police Superintendent David Brown talked about the “split-second” decision officers must make to shoot or not to shoot.
But Rivas, who is an anti-violence worker in Little Village, said that rush of adrenaline and fear, those life-or-death decisions, could be avoided if police did a better job connecting with young people in the community.
“I know what it is to drive through these neighborhoods, these areas at night, and be scared. But once I … got out of my vehicle and I walked off and I saw the guys on the block, the children of this community, I knew who they were and my fear was gone,” Rivas said. “So I encourage you, officers of the law who are going to work in this community from this day on, I encourage you to get off of your vehicle and get to meet the people that you are serving and protecting.”
Rivas spoke at a vigil Monday held near the site where Adam was killed.
At the event, which was guarded by cops and swarmed with news cameras, about 100 people gathered to memorialize the child and call for justice for his killing. The vigil comes as city officials are promising to release body camera footage showing the incident.
Baltazar Enriquez, who lives about four blocks from where the shooting happened, said the city needs to release the video immediately and identify the officer who shot. Enriquez said they would not allow Adam to be forgotten as just “another Mexican kid” or “another brown kid.”
“That’s somebody’s son. That’s somebody’s brother. This kid had a family, and that’s us. That’s our son, too,” Enriquez said. [The mayor’s] been saying release the tape. And yet it’s been a week and we still don’t have those tapes.”
Aurelio Guzman was at the vigil with his 13-year-old son, Aurelio Guzman, Jr. He said he drove about an hour to Little Village from the South Chicago neighborhood to show his support for the family. Guzman said he would wait and see what the video showed, but he did not believe Adam posed a real threat to the officer.
“The police got no right to shoot nobody unless somebody’s pointing a gun at them,” Guzman said. “My son is 13. I don’t think this kid had the guts to point a gun at the police.”
With his own son beside him, Guzman choked up talking about the boy being killed at such a young age.
“It could have been my son,” Guzman said.
Adam Toledo’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, was initially expected to attend Monday night’s vigil, but organizers said she was not feeling up to it.
Instead Jacqueline Herrera with the anti-violence group Enlace Chicago read from something Elizabeth Toledo had written describing her son.
Through Herrera, Elizabeth Toledo described Adam as a caring kid with a “big imagination” and a lot of curiosity since he was a baby. She said Adam loved the show The Walking Dead, and was really into planning for a coming zombie apocalypse.
“He even had the zombie apocalypse bag packed and ready to go,” Herrera said, reading from a piece of paper.
“A significant safety issue”
Adam was shot to death around 2:30 a.m. on March 29 by a Chicago police officer who was responding to an alert about potential shots fired in the area. Police say when officers arrived at the area around 24th Street and Spaulding Avenue, two people fled, officers chased them and the child was killed during an “armed confrontation.”
An initial police statement described the person killed as an “armed offender,” however during a news conference Monday, Brown wouldn’t say whether Adam was holding a gun when he was killed. Brown said he didn’t want to get in the way of the ongoing investigation into the shooting.
The shooting is being investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, which is seeking out other cameras that may have captured the incident beyond the officer’s body-worn camera.
Agency spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said they would meet with Adam’s family as soon as they were certain they had collected all relevant videos. Once the family is able to see the videos they will then be made available to the public, Eaddy said.
The agency had previously said a state law meant to protect the privacy of minors prevented the release of the video. Experts told WBEZ the city was misinterpreting the law. On Friday, the agency reversed course and said it would release video footage.
Even as the investigation is just getting underway, Adam’s killing is already prompting promised changes within the Chicago Police Department.
For years, activists and experts have said that the Chicago police engage in unnecessary foot chases that can lead to violent confrontations between police and citizens. Now that a 13-year-old boy is dead after a foot chase, Lightfoot is promising a new foot-pursuit policy before the summer.
“Foot pursuits present a significant safety issue,” Lightfoot said Monday. “Police get a call … their adrenaline is pumping and oftentimes they get separated from their partner, so they’re running on their own through a dense, often dark urban environment.”
Lightfoot didn’t say exactly what she wants in a new policy — but said it will be based on input from officers and residents. And she said it would not hinder crime fighting efforts.
Nusrat Choudhury, legal director at the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement that a new foot pursuit policy was “long overdue.” Choudhury said the new policy “must address unsafe foot pursuit tactics and set forth guidelines that balance the objective of apprehending people for whom there is reasonable suspicion of unlawful conduct with the serious risk of injury and harm.”