Adam Toledo. Illustration by Thumy Phan.
Adam Toledo. Illustration by Thumy Phan.

Op-Ed: Blaming the Victim

Media and public officials were quick to speculate about Adam Toledo’s life even as they told us to wait for the facts surrounding his death

Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s April 6 editorial challenging the continuing demands for justice for Adam Toledo, the thirteen-year-old boy killed by a Chicago police officer in Little Village on March 29 has been roundly criticized by community members, activists, and fellow journalists. What continues to be glaringly apparent is that Chicago police have a disregard for the lives of Latinx and Black people. Far more disturbing is how the mayor, city officials, and prominent voices at institutions such as the Tribune actively denigrate a child in order to protect the police. 

Adam’s worth and humanity are not up for discussion. Zorn used a tired, racist trope to dehumanize Adam, so that he is no longer deemed a boy, but vilified in ways that no white child would ever be described. Zorn paints Adam as a potentially bad child who was capable of murder when he compares him to other thirteen-year-old boys and girls who have been accused of committing a crime, implying that the police could have been justified in killing him. While Zorn did not describe the background of these children, the point he is trying to make is apparent: some children are bad. He later apologized for his “chilly, analytical tone,” but the message was clear: whereas white children may be viewed with compassion as they struggle with mental health or behavioral issues, Chicago’s Latinx and Black children are often blamed and shamed for their circumstances. 

Zorn is not alone in this effort to blame the victim and deflect attention away from the police. Mayor Lightfoot indirectly extended the responsibility for Adam’s death onto his family. At a press conference with Superintendent David Brown and Alderman George Cardenas, who represents the 12th Ward where Adam lived, Lightfoot suggested Adam’s killing was another tragedy in line with other incidents of gun violence, for which only the adults in Adam’s life can be held accountable—in particular the person who handed the boy a gun, but implicitly his mother as well. Lightfoot said, “This is a complicated story to tell, and it’s not my story to tell,” washing her hands of the matter.

Alderman Cardenas also blamed the schools and the community for enabling Adam and not protecting him from getting shot to death by police. 

“Maybe the school probably knew something about this young man or the teachers or the counselors, somebody in the neighborhood knew something that this young man was going through but couldn’t say anything because nowadays in the community there are neighbors, brothers and sisters who are too quiet to say anything because we might offend somebody and I think that has to stop,” Cardenas said at the press conference. “This young man had nobody.” 

The mayor called for the police department to create a foot-pursuit policy. But CPD’s disregard for the lives of Latinx and Black people will not be addressed by adding a new policy. 

The city neglects Little Village, a primarily Mexican, working-class community when it rebuffs residents’ demands for resources, respect, and dignity. The pandemic has hit Little Village particularly hard. For many residents, working from home is not an option and has led to higher risks of exposure, resulting in one of the highest number of deaths due to COVID in the city. 

 The mayor has left Little Village families vulnerable to environmental racism when she continues to allow companies such as Hilco to pollute the community. When the mayor and the alderman meet the interests of developers at the expense of addressing the housing insecurity and the stress that it puts on families, city officials condemn the community to strife. When the city refuses to invest in the neighborhoods, the city sets up our youth to a future with little opportunity. 

The circumstances Little Village residents confront every day are not unique to the community. They are experienced by Latinx and Black people across Chicago. Within days of Adam’s murder, police killed another Latino youth, twenty-two-year-old Anthony Alvarez, on the far North Side. Police continue to behave as if they are judge, jury, and executioner when encountering Latinx and Black youth, whom they immediately criminalize.

Despite imploring the public not to jump to conclusions, Zorn and our public officials have effectively downplayed Adam’s humanity and innocence. Zorn argued that Adam’s killing received widespread attention only because he was so young. His age certainly makes for a disturbing headline, but just as outrageous is the extent to which City Hall and members of the media are willing to defend the police at the expense of a thirteen-year-old boy. 

The murder of Adam Toledo is a matter of a political failure. Lightfoot refuses to rein in the police, who function as an occupying army in our communities and Ald. Cardenas continues to line his pockets with developers’ money while sacrificing the well-being of our families—while people removed from the situation get to loudly speculate and shape the narrative. It’s only reasonable that working-class communities want to take control of the police and ensure that dollars are better invested in Black and brown neighborhoods so that our youth can not just survive, but thrive and be treated with compassion.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Maria Gardner Lara is a Chicago resident working with a collective of organizations calling for justice for Adam and investment in Latinx and Black communities in the city.

13 Comments

  1. Compañera, thank you for speaking out, speaking the truth. Unimaginable what the system does to our children, let alone to our youth and others in out communities of color. We need guidance. What is our next step? gracias

  2. Sounds like whether it was night or day, Black or White, 13 or 30, he would have been killed by not complying on time.

  3. Why was Alderman Michael Rodriguez not named as well? This is a community split between 2 wards the 22nd and the 12th ward. This happen in both their areas and both share the same problem. Let’s not fear making them 1 term politicians if needed. Money is coming to their office for our community but they are busy lining their pockets.

  4. What else do people expect? He shot off a gun in the middle of a city and then ran from police with the gun in the night. This would’ve been the expected outcome for any demographic.

    • I expect the police that yelled show me your f******* hands to not shoot the person after they had complied. He clearly had both hands up unarmed. What’s the purpose of giving the command if you still pull the trigger? Demographics plays a part for sure. People of color are targeted and treated unfairly. Most stories go unreported or not televised. Yes little Adam was doing something wrong maybe but he shouldn’t have lost his life. I’m not against police doing their job but the excessive force, kill shots everytime? Then here come the fear for my life B.S. or some other lame excuse. You that nervous find a new profession. People so delusional til the s*** is on their doorstep. Crimes are committed by ALL races, but only certain ones are dying.

  5. Or if they continued on the shooting spree (he did have a gun) would have been shot anyway or caused another’s death or injuries. Where is the justice for Lydia Jimenez just another “unintended target” teenager shot Thursday night in a drive by. It wasn’t by Adam Toledo but very well could have.

  6. Eric Zorn, writing for the Chicago Tribune, criticized Encinia for his handling of the traffic stop, calling him a “petty tyrant” and referring to his “Are you done?” as “snippy condescension familiar to anyone experienced in the bickering arts”. However, he also said Bland was unnecessarily argumentative, writing: “[Y]ou must always defer meekly to the police. Even when they’re acting like bullies, goading you or issuing you preposterous orders like to put out your cigarette as you sit in your own car, don’t challenge their authority. … Comply. And if you feel your rights are being violated, take it up later with a judge.”

  7. “This young man had nobody”?!?!

    Alderman Cardenas, could not the police officer, who shot Adam, have been that one body to take an interest in Adam… instead of murdering him?!?!?! Instead of blaming the child, his family, his school, the community, why not ask the reason that a child that a child may be on the streets at 1 AM? Don’t murder the child. Take care of the community, its people, its children, their homes and their schools. Isn’t there a better way to help, to aid children out late at night, than to kill them?

  8. he was a gang member with a gun out at 2:30 am. he shouldnt have been shot in the chest but this gang activity has to stop, so does making this this gang banger appear like an innocent child

    • Running with a gun vs. stopping and dropping the gun when told show me your hands. Both hands were up and empty. It’s sad and scary how people will defend the police simply because they’re police. I’m not defending criminal behavior but you shouldn’t lose your life when you have complied with command.

  9. “People”, HUMAN BEINGS with limitless characteristics, have had a disregard for life marketed to them for a long time. We eat it up and “entertain” ourselves with what is fed by a multi-billion dollar system provides. If we have a respect for life, we will stop putting ourselves in no-win situations for the fun/thrill of it. It is a terrible loss if life to lose Adam – or anyone else, BUT there are SO MANY TIMES HIS choices directed the outcome. The same goes with MANY of the horrible scenarios that gave played out recently.

    Chose life. If you think you’re “free” to do what you want, with total disregard for consequences and logical outcomes, you merely get what you get…. Sad? Absolutely! Unfortunately, “Facts” don’t care….

  10. South Side Weekly does not take into account the terror these bangers inflict on our community.

    Just because one kid gets out of a gang (Berto) does not excuse the behavior of hundreds who do not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notes

Print Edition