When a Child Is Killed, It Doesn’t Matter If They’re Holding a Gun

After Chicago police claimed that the 7th-grader that an officer shot and killed, Adam Toledo, had a gun, video exonerated him posthumously. But advocates say it doesn't matter — kids shouldn't die at the hands of police.

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On March 29, a police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo in an alley in Chicago, while the boy had his hands raised in the air. The Chicago Police Department initially claimed that while tragic, the shooting was justified due to the Mexican-American, middle-schooler having a gun in his hand.

However, weeks later in mid-April, a video of the shooting was released which showed that Toledo, a child, was unarmed at the time of his death. He was shot while complying with police orders.

This revelation has sparked national outrage, for the obvious reasons: a 13-year-old boy is dead, and the police’s claim that he had a gun when he was killed appears to be a lie. But advocates say that whether or not Toledo had a gun in the beginning of the sitution is irrelevant compared to the larger point: kids should not be killed by the police, no matter what.

The Police Have Killed Children Before

Data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe found that since 2013, Chicago Police have killed 12 children. In that same period, the NYPD killed 4 kids and the LAPD killed three.

These incidents are not exclusive to cities. Consider 16-year-old Peyton Ham who was shot and killed by a state trooper in Maryland. The State Police claimed that Ham pointed a gun at the officer. It was later discovered to be an airsoft gun. And few can forget the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a Cleveland kid with a fake gun who was shot by a police officer within seconds of cops arriving at the park where he was playing.

What’s Happening in Chicago?

While the police officer who killed George Floyd is on trial, another 20-year-old father named Daunte Wright was shot and killed during a traffic stop. In Maryland, the 16-year-old boy named Peyton Ham was shot by a police officer. And now Chicago is experiencing yet another incidence of police violence.

On Thursday, the video of the shooting of Adam Toledo was made public. The video, revealed by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, showed that Toledo was unarmed when he was killed. While it appears he had a gun, he dropped it. Toledo had raised his hands in the air, facing the officers, unarmed.

One of the officers, who has been identified as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, then almost immediately opened fire on Toledo, killing the 13-year-old.

Advocates are furious because prosecutors initially claimed that Toledo was holding a gun when he turned to face the officers, which is when he was shot and subsequently killed. Prosecutors later said, after the release of the video, that the attorney who claimed that Toledo had a gun had “failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court.”

What Advocates Are Saying

“A 13-year-old boy was murdered by the Chicago Police Department,” said advocates and leaders from the MacArthur Justice Center.

“We are outraged and saddened after seeing the video footage of a Chicago police officer shooting and killing a 13-year-old child… We know that Adam’s life was precious, that he was loved, and that our city can and must do so much more for our youth,” the City Council’s Progressive Caucus said, according to Book Club Chicago.

Cops Should Never Kill Children

None of these facts matter as much as the immaterial fact that children — grade-school aged-kids — are dying at the hands of police. None of these facts matter as much as the fact that cops shouldn’t kill people, and shouldn’t kill children, None of these facts matter as much as the fact that trained professionals kill people, both old and sometimes very young, for complying, or for not complying, or for simply existing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, the Toledo family’s attorney, argued: Even if Toledo was initially holding a gun, the fact that he did not have it when he was shot makes his death “an assassination.”

The question of wether or not Toledo was technically armed may be important from a legal perspective. But advocates say that it undermines the simple fact that police killing children is never acceptable.

Adam Toledo’s mother, who didn’t know that her son had died until two days after the shooting took place, pleaded with police about what else they could have done. They “could have shot him in his legs, his arms… I don’t know, but not kill my baby,” she said on April 2nd.

“The release of the body camera footage and other materials by Chicago police today cannot obscure one, central fact: A 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by those sworn to protect and serve our community,” ACLU Illinois said in a released statement.

Protecting and serving is antithetical to killing and lying.

Here’s How You Can Help Adam’s Family

Marie Claire published a list of action items that you can take in order to help Adam Toledo’s family, including donating to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, organizations that are fighting to defund Chicago police and reinvest in the community, GoodKids MadCity, donating to Bail Funds for protestors who will inevitably be put into jail for protesting the killing, and contacting Illinois representatives or your local representatives.

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