Adam Toledo bodycam
Chicago police release video of fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo
03:42 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN.

CNN  — 

Over a thousand people took to the streets of Chicago on Friday evening, marching for police reform. They were protesting the killing of Adam Toledo, 13, by a police officer in the early morning hours of March 29.

In a graphic video of the shooting that was released on Thursday, Adam is chased down a dark alley by Officer Eric Stillman, who orders him to stop, show his hands and “drop it”. Some outlets, such as The New York Times, have analyzed the video and say the boy appears to toss a handgun over the fence before raising his hands. Less than a second later, Stillman fatally shoots the seventh-grader in the chest. The officer has been placed on a 30-day administrative leave.

While many questions remain, much of what we know so far is unacceptable. Before video and audio footage of the encounter was released by the independent Civilian Office of Police Accountability, city officials changed their versions of what happened several times.

There has been a disproportionate focus on the circumstances surrounding the shooting, rather than on the fact that a police officer killed an unarmed child. Sadly, this kind of violence is familiar to Latino communities – and that should disturb all Americans.

On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged people to “reserve judgment” because “we don’t have enough information to be the judge and jury of this particular situation … Let’s wait until we hear all the facts.”

If only she and the Chicago Police Department had shown such restraint in their own initial characterizations of the tragedy.

On March 29, a police spokesman described it as an “armed confrontation.” On April 5, Lightfoot stated that Adam “was in possession of a gun.” According to USA Today’s reporting, Lightfoot hadn’t seen bodycam footage by that point. On April 10, a prosecutor said that Adam was holding a gun when he was shot. Such statements contributed to a false narrative that Adam was somehow a dangerous criminal. But they are not supported by the video footage.

Mayor Lightfoot warned the public not to act as “judge and jury.” Yet Officer Stillman acted as judge, jury and executioner. Consider that a child out at 2:30 a.m. does not deserve a death sentence. Nor is running – even with a gun – from the police a capital offense.

Despite Stillman’s professional training at taxpayer expense, he escalated the situation by cursing at Adam as he chased him, yelling, “Show me your f—ing hands!” When Adam put his hands in the air, Stillman shot him anyway. The officer later filled out a report marking that Adam “did not follow verbal direction.” This contradicts what the Toledo family lawyer has said she saw in the footage.

Adam’s killing reflects the reality that Latinos are more likely than Whites to experience police-related shootings and violence. Just last year, Andres Guardado, 18, died after being shot five times in the back by law enforcement in California; Carlos Ingram Lopez, 27, died in police custody in Tucson; and two young Latino men were killed by law enforcement, just days apart, in the San Francisco Bay area.

Aside from the pain that these deaths take on victims’ families, they also take a toll on Latino communities. A July 2020 Gallup poll found that 63% of Hispanics said that major changes in policing are needed, while a June 2020 report from Pew Research found that 77% of Hispanics support the Black Lives Matter movement.

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These figures speak to the importance of police reform to Latinos. And when a significant segment of the population does not trust the police, it means people are less likely to come forward as witnesses or to report crimes. This makes all Americans less safe.

A lawyer for Officer Stillman said that Adam’s shooting was justified, given the nature of the threat. “The police officer was put in this split-second situation where he has to make a decision,” said another lawyer retained by the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago. This statement is correct: Officer Stillman made the decision to shoot Adam. So now a child is dead, a family is grieving and Chicago is reeling from protests.

Enough is enough. Officer Stillwell needs to be held fully accountable for his actions – and the Chicago Police Department must learn that all residents deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect.