No, “we” didn’t.
Lightfoot was attempting to give context to systemic forces that led to the shooting death of a seventh grader. Whereas politicians used to routinely invoke tough-on-crime, “law and order” rhetoric, since the uprisings in Ferguson, Mo., after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, it has become common for mayors to strike an empathic tone while speaking to the complicated legacy of police violence and racism. Similar tones can be heard on issues of economic divestment from working-class Black and brown communities. Although a welcome change, softer rhetoric is not nearly enough.
Too often, elected officials are disingenuous in the face of police killings. Lightfoot said that “the system” is at fault, suggesting that systemic forces are outside her reach. But claiming that “we failed Adam” deflects from Lightfoot’s responsibilities, including her actions to obstruct policies that would help curb, if not end, police violence and give children like Adam resources and opportunities to live fulfilling lives.
Here is some context Lightfoot did not speak to: A few days after Adam was shot, I attended a march in his neighborhood and a vigil at his elementary school. There, I saw his peers, their parents and other community members trying to come to terms with this tragedy and organizing for a better day — for a time when headlines are not filled with reports of police-shooting deaths: Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor. This was a community of people who refused to fail Adam, even in death.
In Chicago, the “we” that refuses to fail Adam and other youths organize vigils and protests. We advocate divesting funds from policing and investing more in violence prevention programs and crisis-response alternatives, such as the mental health service Treatment Not Trauma. We fight for living wages, affordable housing, pandemic relief and other economic assistance so that people like Adam’s mother and older relatives aren’t forced to work long hours just to get by.
Grass-roots organizations, including Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, Defund CPD Campaign, Grassroots Collaborative and United Working Families, all fought for a city budget and policies that would reduce gun and police violence and send more resources to our communities. We fought for Wall Street firms, large corporations and real estate developers to pay their fair share in taxes. We sought a progressive revenue structure that divests funds from policing and invests more in affordable housing, public health and violence-prevention programs.
Lightfoot campaigned as a progressive reformer promising police accountability and economic investments in Black and brown working-class communities. Yet instead of working with those of us trying to support and sustain our community, as mayor she has raised taxes primarily on working-class families. Lightfoot fought police accountability legislation. Her administration underfunded pandemic aid and other economic assistance, violence-prevention programs and other alternatives to policing while directing most of the city’s Cares Act discretionary funds to the police department.
Our organizations are filled with Black and brown working-class families from areas like the South Side neighborhood where Adam lived. We petitioned, attended budget hearings, and protested for a more just and fair Chicago — the sort of place where children from all economic backgrounds could live fulfilling lives. I want Lightfoot to explain how we failed Adam.
Some of us work to keep youths alive and give them a better chance at life. This is the we who have protested, held vigils and demanded that Lightfoot do better by passing policies our city needs. People elected Lightfoot to make real change. When she and other politicians point to a collective failure in the wake of a wrongful death, it minimizes their responsibility for the tragic circumstances and broader pain. It also obscures actions she and other mayors have taken against policies or initiatives Black and brown communities have sought to keep their neighborhoods and cities safe — and even thrive.
The factors that led to a police officer shooting a 13-year-old are complicated, but the path to a better future is not. Working-class Black and brown communities in Chicago have been fighting for them for years. We need a mayor who has the political courage and will to make necessary change happen.