R. I. P. Adam Toledo: UPDATE

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Adam Toledo

Police body cam video shown to the family of Adam Toledo earlier today apparently shows that Adam, a 13-year-old Chicago boy, was shot at close range by a police officer after he obeyed a command to stop running and had raised his hands. Initial communications from the Chicago Police Department stated that Adam was in possession of a weapon when he turned toward the police officers who were chasing him, and that he had failed to obey the officer’s command to stop running. None of that initial communication was true, based on the description of the video. Adam did stop running, he was not in possession of a weapon, and he raised his hands in the air. Even still, Officer Eric Stillman shot Adam in the chest at close range, killing him.

Several questions remain to be answered about this tragedy. Giving Officer Stillman the benefit of the doubt, let us say he did not realize Adam was a 13-year-old boy. Even still, why would any trained police officer shoot anyone who had obeyed his command to stop running and had raised his hands in the air? What else could a fleeing suspect do to avoid being shot by the police in that situation? Adam was ordered to stop running. He stopped running. He raised his hands in the air, signaling surrender. His hands were empty, there was no weapon. Yet, he was shot in the chest at close range and killed. Defenders of the police regularly say that if you obey an officer’s legal order and do not resist, there is no reason to think you will be harmed. Well, Adam obeyed the officer’s order. He did everything, and more, that the officer ordered him to do. Yet, he was still shot and killed.

Another legitimate question is, why was 13-year-old Adam Toledo in the company of gun-wielding, 21-year-old Ruben Roman at 2:30 in the morning in a violence-ridden city like Chicago? Why was a 13-year-old anywhere other than in his home in his bed at 2:30 in the morning? This is not to excuse Officer Stillman’s killing of Adam. If the description of the video is accurate (it has not yet been released to the public at the Toledo family’s request), Officer Stillman utterly failed as a police officer, who reacted to a fleeing suspect following every order he was given by shooting and killing that suspect. It is to say that, had Adam been in his home in his bed that morning, and not in the company of an adult, gun-wielding felon, he would still be alive. This is not victim-blaming. Many a 13-year-old boy would be excited at the danger-filled prospects of experiencing the night life with an adult criminal, bragging about his misadventures to his friends the next day. But, Officer Stillman was not the only one who failed Adam that morning. The adults in Adam’s life should have known where he was, and that he should not have been running the streets in the company of an adult felon at 2:30 in the morning in Chicago.

Of course, the family will not be challenged with this question. A family culture that makes room for a 13-year-old boy to be out and about running the streets at 2:30 in the morning with an adult felon will not be challenged about the family culture they have created. They are victims suffering a terrible tragedy. But, so long as we refuse to invest in creating family cultures that do not make room for 13-year-old boys to be out and about running the streets at 2:30 in the morning with adult felons, there will only be more tragedies.

I started my nursing career working for five plus years in an inner-city pediatric emergency room in Memphis. I saw too many kids come in seriously injured or dead. The vast majority of those kids were seriously injured or dead because of the neglect or stupid decisions of the adults in their lives. Yes, I felt genuine sorrow for these families. Yes, I empathized with their tragic losses. Yet, I also wondered, though never out loud, why these families allowed their children to be put in situations that resulted in serious injury or death. Mind you, I am not talking about accidents. I am talking about decisions adults made that put their child in harms way. A twelve-year-old does not belong driving a four-wheeler up a hill on a two-lane road. A five-year-old has no business trying to drive an ATV on his own. Eleven children do not belong stuffed into one car so uncle can take them to McDonald’s, even if uncle is not drunk, though in this case he was. And a 13-year-old does not belong on the streets in the company of an adult felon at 2:30 in the morning in Chicago.

Again, if the description of the body cam video is accurate, I cannot imagine any other charge against Officer Stillman than murder. He is directly responsible for Adam’s death. But, Adam Toledo had no business being where he was when he was killed by Officer Stillman. Those who created a culture that allowed him to be there hold some responsibility for his tragic death. Until we are ready and willing to acknowledge that, more young boys will be killed on our streets by police officers, gang members, cartels, and who knows who else.

UPDATE: Reports are that study of the body cam video of Officer Eric Stillman shows that Adam Toledo was holding a gun when Officer Stillman was chasing him, and that he appears to have thrown it to the ground when Officer Stillman ordered him to stop, and before Adam raised his hands. It is difficult to make judgments on such matters, and the authorities, of course, will make a thorough investigation that may or may not result in charges against Officer Stillman. Even still, it is important to remember that Adam was ordered by Officer Stillman to stop running, and that Adam stopped running and raised his then-empty hands. If a police officer gives an order to a suspect and that suspect follows that order, it is reasonable to say that no harm ought to come to that suspect. This is why police officers undergo training, so they know how to respond to a suspect who does not follow their orders, but also how to respond to a suspect that does.

It also goes without saying that this does not change the fact that the adults in Adam’s life failed him by creating a family culture that allowed their child to be running the streets with an adult felon at 2:30 in the morning. It also goes without saying that a 13-year-old has no business being in possession of a firearm under these circumstances. Adam lost his life on March 29 because a lot of people who ought to have taken responsibility for doing right by him failed to do so. That includes Officer Stillman and Ruben Roman, but it also includes a lot of other people, too.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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