It happened again. Police killed another person. This time it was a child, 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Video shows Toledo turning around and raising his empty hands before Eric Stillman, a six-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, shoots him in the chest. And since his death, police have shot dead at least 43 other people, according to a count by The Washington Post.
On March 29, a ShotSpotter notification brought the police to South Sawyer Avenue in Toledo’s Little Village neighborhood. The company claims the gunfire location technology helps make communities safer. The officer had a police camera manufactured by Avon, which says its body cams increase police safety and enable accountability by having officers be videotaped. Of course, the ShotSpotter didn’t prevent a lethal gun shooting, and the officer didn’t show restraint. New, expensive policing technology is not the answer to the problem of cops shooting people.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the mayor, police, and attorney general followed their usual post-police-killing script: They minimized both the violence on the tape and police culpability. Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to hold abstractions like “systemic forces” responsible. Since it was reported that Toledo had a gun and was part of the gang, Lightfoot also blamed the proliferation of guns, gangs, and “bad” police practices. Lightfoot’s proposed cure for police violence is gun control legislation, additional money for training, and vague promises to provide more resources to poor communities.
But we know that the lack of gun control legislation is not what killed Toledo. Toledo’s having a gun and being part of a gang isn’t what killed him either. One only has to look at how police respond to far-right white violence to see that these claims are absurd. About 15 minutes before Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people in Kenosha, Wis., a police officer gave him water and thanked him for his presence. At the time, Rittenhouse was with members of an armed militia and was illegally carrying a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle. After the shootings, he walked by the police untouched.
We know who killed Toledo. It was the police, with an assist from mayors like Lightfoot who fund and empower them. This is why we have taken to the streets in Chicago, again. Before the video’s release, the Little Village community held an event that was equal parts vigil, memorial, and defiant protest. There was, of course, the predictable massive police presence in a community that had just experience the killing of a child. Community organizations told the crowd to continue their demonstrations—and not just in working-class neighborhoods but in areas where the rich and powerful who prop up the police state live.
In the past week, there were protests across Chicago. On Friday, thousands came out to Logan Square to mourn and fight back. The crowd was intergenerational and mostly working- and middle-class people of color. We heard from families that members killed by police and about the lack of justice and accountability that Lightfoot has provided. Protesters held signs that said “Abolish the Police” and “Defund the Police,” while others had signs that said cpac now, referring to legislation that would lead to a democratically elected civilian police board. Attendees like Emilio Jose Torres, who grew up in Logan Square and Humboldt Park, put a finer point to the moment: “I can tell you right now, the way to stop crime is not by policing people. It’s by finding resources to make sure kids have education and kids have a decent home. Criminals don’t just appear out of nowhere.”
People of all ages were united by a vision that emerged from the movement to defund the police. We wanted police accountability to happen and for our communities to be safe from interpersonal violence. To do that, we need to divest from police and invest in our communities. We don’t need better police training or even gun control, which is being offered by Lightfoot at the local level and by socialist and progressive stalwarts like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Pramila Jayapal at the national level through their support of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
I was heartened by Friday’s turnout and the sense of commitment in the crowd. Even in the face of a near-lockdown of the surrounding area by police, protesters worked to ensure the space was free of police interference. The chants were plentiful, and the music affirming.
Afterward, we marched for over three hours toward Lightfoot’s house. There was the usual back-and-forth with police trying to control the protesters, but we were able to ensure the demonstration went forward on our terms. At this point in her tenure, Lightfoot often has a cordon of police around her house. And as usual, police ending up arresting folks. The police even assaulted a reporter from the local news site BlockClub Chicago. This culminated in a long night of jail support, as police continued their harassment and intimidation of supporters, lawyers, and even alderman in attempt to demoralize our movement. Though everyone got out of jail thanks to the help of groups like BLM Chicago, UWF, Grassroots Collaborative, and the Chicago Bail Fund, the charges have not been dropped. The police brutalized one person during an arrest so badly that they were hospitalized after receiving a concussion and experiencing multiple seizures.
This is the Chicago of Lori Lightfoot, who ran as a progressive and who accurately said that police reform would do nothing to reform police. So where do we go from here? How do we build a political constituency large and powerful enough to take on Lightfoot and the police as well as the Wall Street and corporate interests that fund them? Organizations such as the Pilsen Alliance, Good Kid Mad City, BLM Chi, Defund CPD, and many others have begun to implement a strategy to achieve justice for Toledo and so many others.
First, the movement needs to continue to widen its base of support in Black and Latinx communities through traditional channels of social, civic, and cultural life. This means door knocking on the South and West sides, building the movement with Black and brown churches and social service agencies, and attending alderman meetings, public safety meetings, and block club meetings.
At the same time, we need to escalate our protests to targets that give us more leverage over Lightfoot and police. We need to demonstrate against those who fund Lightfoot and police foundations.
We also need to mobilize progressive labor support. Unions and their membership can lobby elected officials to support divesting from police and putting that money into communities that need the resources. Many left organizations and progressive elected officials either claim defunding the police is not feasible or not supported by their membership or constituents. But defund campaigns have been in successful in Oakland, Seattle, and Austin, and polling shows 65 percent of people support a divest/invest approach to police reform. Unions, activist groups, and politicians can commit to the politics of defunding in a manner that is effective for their respective constituencies.
Finally, the entirety of the left should unite behind Lightfoot’s resignation. Lightfoot campaigned as a progressive willing to take on moneyed and police interests to make the needed changes. Instead, she has repeatedly sided with police and the 1 percent against working-class families. When it came to the teacher strike, she denigrated the teachers and tried to sow division in our communities. When it came to Covid-19 restrictions, she turned Black and brown areas into police states while white and affluent neighborhoods had the run of the city. Even the vaccine rollout fell victim to cronyism that prevented communities from accessing the doses they needed.
Lightfoot has failed our city. She stands in the way of genuine change. The quest for justice for Toledo will require ensuring that Lightfoot resigns.