The attorney representing the officer who shot Adam claims the officer lawfully killed this child because, in the officer’s telling, Adam was carrying a gun during the pursuit and the officer feared for his life. According to the officer’s counsel and other law enforcement figures — including the former superintendent of the CPD — the officer’s perception of Adam as a threat, even if mistaken, made the officer’s lethal force lawful.
This perspective is grounded in Supreme Court precedent, namely the landmark 1989 decision in Graham v. Connor, where the court directed that the “reasonableness” of an officer’s use of force “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
Based on this language, courts throughout the country permit brutal, morally unjustifiable acts of police violence. This is why efforts to reduce police harm must not be limited to the meager protections provided in federal law. Change requires entirely new approaches to public safety, informed by the experiences and expertise of the Black and brown communities most likely to experience police violence.
Adam Toledo’s death demonstrates that the CPD — and, indeed, police departments across the nation — simply can’t be “fixed.” For more than 100 years, Chicago city officials have made public pronouncements of their intent to “reform” the CPD. None of those purported reforms has rooted out racist police violence and corruption, or created safe communities.
The most recent effort to reform the CPD takes the force of a federal court order, known as a consent decree. The CPD consent decree aims to redress the racism, lawlessness and corruption the Justice Department found when it investigated the CPD. This 2017 investigation began after the city released video showing a White CPD officer murdering a Black teenager, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. But even a federal court order alone can’t fix what’s wrong with the CPD.
I know this from personal experience. I live in Chicago, and I — along with my colleagues at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the University of Chicago Law School and other civil rights attorneys — represent a coalition of community-based organizations in enforcing the federal consent decree.
The federal court order has been in place since March 2019, and it has failed by every measure. It provided no protection to the hundreds of Chicagoans who took to the streets during last summer’s uprisings to protest law enforcement brutality, violence and racism — and then endured brutality, violence and racism from CPD officers.
Chicago police have simply continued to operate with impunity. I’m heartbroken — but not surprised — that the consent decree my clients, my co-counsel and I have spent thousands of hours fighting for, monitoring and enforcing failed to protect Adam Toledo’s life.
In 2018 and again in 2019, our coalition demanded that the CPD implement a foot-pursuit policy and restrict the circumstances under which CPD officers can use force. We have long known that foot pursuits are a particularly dangerous tactic — and police departments around the country have implemented restrictions on this practice.
But Chicago refused, in part because it argued that federal law has no such requirements. Now, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says that a foot-pursuit policy will be implemented. That is too little too late for the Toledo family.
Justice for Adam Toledo requires investments in our Black and brown communities and disinvestments in policing. One would be a proposal by the Chicago-based, Black youth-led GoodKids MadCity collective called the Peace Book, which would create neighborhood peace commissions with resources sufficient to meet community needs. The resources include funds for positive youth spaces, political and art education, mental health treatment, restorative justice, and conflict resolution services.
The Peace Book could operate with a diversion of just 2 percent, or $35 million, from the CPD’s budget. Other major cities have diverted far more from policing into communities.
Second, the Treatment Not Trauma ordinance, sponsored by Chicago Democratic Socialist Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez and backed by a diverse, citywide coalition, would prohibit CPD officers from responding to people in mental health crises and instead fund community-based mental health professionals. Similar programs in Oregon both reduce police violence and better serve community needs.
Racist police violence in Chicago will end when we stop tethering solutions to federal law and police policy. More police “reform” isn’t needed. Chicago’s elected officials must embrace proposals such as the Peace Book and Treatment Not Trauma ordinance. Each would create safer communities, and each would do far more to redress the entrenched culture of violence and racism in the Chicago Police Department than yet another police policy revision. Justice for Adam Toledo demands no less.