Trigger Warning: Police Violence
Since March 29, Chicago police officers have shot and killed three people, including thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo, whose killing drew particular outrage because he was so young. While most of us did not know Adam or his family, we have seen the police’s pattern of violence with impunity time and time again in recent years—a pattern that targets and disproportionately harms Black and brown communities.
This pattern is not new. Chicago police officers have a long history of killing young people. While CPD has also killed several white youths, Black and brown kids and teens are often treated by much of society, including the police, as dangerous adults, as groups like Project NIA and CopsOutCPS have described.
When CPD officers killed Adam Toledo, it wasn’t an aberration: CPD officers have killed at least forty people under the age of sixteen since 1940. I identified thirty-one instances by searching digitized archives on newspapers.com and ProQuest, and historical records at the Chicago History Museum. The Fatal Encounters database, which tracks people killed during interactions with police nationwide, lists nine more that occured between 2011 and 2020.
These forty total instances are not exhaustive; it is also possible that some such killings went unreported or that I did not find the news articles written about them in my research.
This data also does not include the dozens of older teenagers Chicago police have killed, such as Laquan McDonald, the seventeen-year-old who CPD shot to death in 2014.
Between 1940 and 2010, police killed young people all over the city, ranging as far north and west as Montclare and as far south as Morgan Park, although young people were killed most frequently on the South and West Sides in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods. The neighborhood with the highest number of police killings of children during that time period was Englewood. The race of the victim was mentioned in a little more than half of these reports; where it was, seventy-one percent of the people killed were Black.
In more than eighty percent of the reports I reviewed, nobody had been injured at all until the police became involved. Roughly one-third of the young people were killed by off-duty cops, and more than three-quarters were killed outside in public spaces. Patrol officers accounted for about four-fifths of the killings, and detectives killed at least three teenagers.
Of the thirty-one killings that occurred before 2010, available newspaper articles indicate that four officers were criminally charged. Eight of the officers who killed a youth also killed at least one other person.
The Fatal Encounters database recorded nine people under the age of sixteen who were killed in police-involved incidents in Chicago since 2010. They are fifteen-year-old Tatioun Williams in 2011; fifteen-year-old Dakota Bright in 2012; fifteen-year-old Michael Westley in 2013; eleven-year-old Donovan Turnage in 2013; fourteen-year-old Pedro Rios Jr. in 2014; one-year-old Dillan Harris in 2015; three-year-old Cabari Turner in 2018; two-year-old Danyla Owens in 2019; and ten-year-old Da’Karia Spicer in 2020.
Turnage, Harris, Turner, Owens, and Spicer were all bystanders who were killed by vehicles police were pursuing, in some cases after officers had been ordered to break off the chase.
These nine killings made the 2010s the decade with the highest number of incidents involving CPD officers that resulted in the deaths of young people since the 1970s.
Alex Stein is a lawyer and researcher living in Chicago. This is his first piece for the Weekly.