By Alexander Jordan, Contributor
“Chicago has nothing more than theater and drama when it comes to anything that challenges what they know,” a protestor told me at Friday night’s demonstration and march for Adam Toledo, a 13-year boy that was shot dead by the Chicago Police Department a month prior after complying with direct orders. “With the last mayor [Rahm Emanuel] we saw the same shit when they killed that other kid! They shot him something like 16 times and lied about it too — whole system is corrupt.” The person they referred to was named Laquan McDonald, another child killed by the Chicago Police Department back in 2014, with a similar response from both police and then-mayor Rahm Emanuel. Dashcam footage released showed McDonald walking away from police as 16 shots were then fired, killing Laquan McDonald. Before the Dashcam footage was released to the public, false information was repeatedly given to the public, but once this was shown not to be the case, the city and police department had to backpedal on previous statements in an attempt to salvage their public image. The protestor I spoke to wasn’t misremembering or exaggerating—the horrifying memory is still fresh in the minds of many in the Chicago community and those memories are starting to feel all too repetitive to those who’ve lived through this same sad story, time and time again.
Adam Toledo, as mentioned before, was a 13-year-old child who was shot dead by Chicago police on March 29th, 2020; after complying with police orders, he still lost his life. Originally, the bodycam footage was not meant to be revealed to the public. The police and city went forward with a story that justified the end result of the incident in the favor of the police. But as pressure was put on, the city eventually conceded, scheduling a release for the bodycam footage of the officer that killed Adam Toledo. Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared in a press statement where she gave no definitive answers on the footage she saw, but that she believed the prosecutors were correct when they said that Adam was actively holding a firearm when confronted and told to comply. Later this was disproven, as a spokeswoman from Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said a prosecutor misspoke over the weekend in saying Adam had a gun in his hand.
“They just keep lying and lying until they literally can’t anymore,” another protest attendant told me. This protestor was providing assistance in the safety of those marching. “This isn’t the first time, ya know? And the Chicago police are some of the most corrupt in America, did you know that? They for sure don’t want you to.” This protestor also isn’t wrong; this holds true. After the killing of Laquan McDonald, the Department of Justice started an investigation into the murder as well as the Chicago Police Department, concluding that CPD had created a culture of “excessive violence,” statistically against minorities. This culture stems largely from CPD having poor supervision of their officers—and more disturbing is the amount of influence outside organizations have on the CPD. Namely the Fraternal Order of Police, a collective of police officers nationwide that boasts 355,000 members as of 2020. The FOP, as it is known, has been a thorn in the side of many who have tried to implement any change in policing, Law Professor Paul Butler spoke on the FOP in 2020 saying:
“Police unions often stand in the way of reform. They do so with their rhetoric and with protections they win for cops…Many police unions are extremely influential. Some spend millions of dollars a year electing lawmakers and helping to support mayors and district attorneys who support their agenda. For a long time in the United States, the politics around law and order have been, get tough on crime. That’s certainly the FOP’s line, and a lot of politicians have gone along with that. In this moment, that might be starting to change.”1
Police unions like these get away from official union status by using a Fraternity structure as a shield, but it should be no shock to see them using political influence and donations to get their way.
Let’s return to Adam. Many will be arguing over whether the killing was justified because this is what a court of law will be deciding. This is also what organizations like the FOP will be pressuring for in their favor. But the better question to be asked is: “Do we want to give certain individuals authority & ability to take anyone’s life at any given moment?” When the conversation is framed like this, snappy slogans like “Defund the police!” are given more validity, unlike what many would have you believe—so much so that even more radical ideas such as “Abolish the Police” have been surfacing in the public. And this conversation shift has been happening nationwide; since the protests for George Floyd throughout 2020 and the subsequent civil fights towards an end to police-enforced state violence, the message started very muddy with “Defund the Police” and many definitions and ideas for what that could look like caused a rift in the American Left throughout 2020.
But as time passed, we’ve seen a new unity under “Abolition Now.”
Before the video of Adam Toledo’s murder was released, the official story given to the public was that Adam was brandishing a firearm, had possibly shot at police, and as a result was shot and killed. When the bodycam footage was released on Thursday April 15th at 2:30 p.m., the video did not match the story given. Within 18 seconds of the officer getting out of his vehicle, Adam was shot dead. No gun was in the hands of the child when he put his hands up to stop and comply. Every bit as horrifying as you could imagine, it’s not an easy video to sit through.
Captured video footage has played a huge role in the development of this murder as well as many others over the last few years. Bystanders, surveillance footage, and body cams have been the crucial factor in exposing negligence and borderline homicidal actions of officers. Police unions as mentioned before have been, and are trying their hardest to make sure video surveillance of any kind can’t be required—and especially can’t be accessible to the public. They are well aware of how much the positive public image of the police in America relies on carefully curated public appearance, social media imagery, and the non-transparency in monitoring officers. To lose the power on how the public is allowed to view them would be devastating to the ways in which police across America currently operate, and it scares them.
Since the press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has refused to make comments on the video other than some brief remarks and some tears shed, many don’t see this as enough and have strongly called her out for political theater: “Crocodile tears — I don’t see them as anything more than that. This could be any one of our kids and this is the best she can do? You gotta be kidding me.” This protester was out with her young family to show solidarity with the Toledo family. Every so often there’s an instance where the victim of these attacks is a young child; in recent memory Tamir Rice was the last to spark a large national outcry. His murder was also very closely tied to surveillance footage released to the public and I believe that this (along with the age of the victim) is a factor acting as a catalyst for this movement. As stated before, video footage has played a huge role in recent years for helping the victims and the victims’ families seek justice against officers and while Police Unions and organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police will stop at nothing to protect officers from punishment, it is getting increasingly difficult as our world becomes more and more video documented. Reforms pushed by liberals have little to no impact to tackling system issues or hardly even see follow through; for instance, last summer Lori Lightfoot made a promise to pass in 90 days police reforms such as, “better and different training for officers which brings the community into the academy as teachers,” “mandating crisis intervention and procedural justice training for all officers,” and “establishing a new recruit program on police-community relations and community policing with views from the community about what works.”2 Approaching nearly a year since the initial promise, there doesn’t seem to be much tangible change done in the way CPD operates and executes their process of “justice.”
The previous night to Friday’s protest there was a smaller crowd that had formed to stand up for the Toledo family. Intersections had been blocked off with at most 100 people; the size of this crowd didn’t matter, you could feel the pain sitting in the air like humidity on your skin. I didn’t speak with anyone other than the people I came with; I was just a participant and observer. As the small number of us marched down, the street more and more police started to follow us as they prepared for anything to occur. As we neared the end of our march we pass by the Fraternal Order of Police lodge where a large size of police stood guarding the building. I thought it was strange, but kept moving along with the rest of the march. The following night on Friday, the crowd was massive, some estimates having several thousand people in attendance and the tone was drastically different. This crowd was hurt, but instead of sad they were angry: speakers poured themselves into the crowd, flags and signs were being waved, but there was something else that caught my attention in the atmosphere that night. I’ve been quoting a few of the protestors I got to speak with throughout the evening on Friday but amongst the people there was the ambiance of various chants being started and repeated by people. Like a domino effect where one after the other started to resonate with the message, “No justice, No peace, Abolish the Police,” “We don’t need no damn police, we can keep our own damn peace,” and many more. I don’t remember any instance of the crowd calling for the usual “Defund the Police” rhetoric that we heard time and time again last year. People are sick of the lack of change and the police know it, but there’s not much more they can do besides what they already have been. Friday night concluded when the march made it back to the site where the rally was held and at this point, police had created a barricade to stop anyone from entering the street where Mayor Lightfoot currently lives. A clash between protesters and police ended into arrests, but after that, the night just fizzled out.
Upon reflection, I’m newly invigorated in what is to come, as the fight against injustice continues. What I and many others have started to take note is that police have shown their hand in this country. Look at what they protect when pressure is on in their cities: in Chicago’s case it’s businesses and Police Unions, the things they as a system actually care about. By seeing the things they so clearly have interest in protecting, they’re telling everyone exactly what is needed for them to retain their authority. As Police Abolition grows as a movement faster everyday, we must look at what makes the police powerful and what is used to maintain that power. Police Unions, political status quo, and officer anonymity make it very difficult for people to even begin to see the reasons they should want systemic change and it is about time we shook those up so we can finally start imagining a world without police.
1“The Fraternal Order Of Police.” All things considered, NPR, 8 June 2020. , http://www.npr.org/2020/06/08/872470076/the-fraternal-order-of-police-a-union-that-stands-in-the-way-of-police-reforms.
2Bauer, Kelly. “Chicago Police Reforms Coming Within 90 Days, Mayor Lightfoot Promises.” Block Club Chicago, June 2, 2020. https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/06/02/mayor-lightfoot-to-give-state-of-the-city-speech-tuesday-night/.