Militant Journalism

Thousands rally against police killings in Chicago

Photo: Thousands protest police killings in Chicago. Liberation photo

On April 16, thousands gathered in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood to demand justice for the police killings of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez. The protest was the largest the city has seen since last summer after the killing of George Floyd. It followed the release of police body-camera video showing the death of Toledo, who was shot and killed by the Chicago Police Department in Little Village, a predominantly Latino neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, March 29. He was only 13 years old.

Toledo’s death was one of four killings by the CPD within a two-week period. Two days later, Alvarez was killed on Chicago’s Northwest Side. His family is still demanding answers as to why the police killed the 22-year-old father of a two-year-old child.

Immediate calls for action came from the community after Toledo’s shooting was reported. At an April 5 rally held in Little Village, speakers addressed the systemic community divestment and police brutality that led to a 13-year-old being shot and killed by the police in an alley close to his home. Other actions included a rally in downtown Chicago, commemorating the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., where families of victims who were killed by police called for an end to police violence. 

On April 5, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a press conference with CPD Superintendent David Brown where the body-cam footage from the killing of Toledo was released. During the press conference, Lightfoot announced new police reform regarding foot pursuits. “We must commit ourselves to the necessary work of creating an environment where all of our residents can live their lives safely,” said Lightfoot. This statement comes after the Chicago Mayor spent $281.5 million in federal Covid-19 relief money on police payroll, money meant to help Chicago residents in need during the pandemic.

During the press conference, Lightfoot talked about Toledo’s potential involvement in gang activity. “Let’s be clear, an adult put a gun in a child’s hand,” she said, as she talked about the need to “lessen the allure of a gang life.” This is a completely unsubstantiated claim, and an attempt to smear the name of a 13-year-old who was killed by Chicago Police.

Just three hours after the shooting took place, police spokesperson Tom Ahern called the incident an “armed confrontation.” The CPD attempted to shape a narrative that Toledo was an armed and dangerous gang member.

The criminalization of Adam Toledo continued in court, when Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy described the altercation in a proffer: “The officer tells [Toledo] to drop it as [Toledo] turns toward the officer. [Toledo] had a gun in his right hand.” However, after the body-cam videos were released, the state’s attorney’s office said this detail about Adam Toledo having a gun in his hand the moment he was shot was not accurate, and the attorney who works in this office had “failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court.”

On April 15, 18 days after the shooting of Toledo, the body-cam footage was finally released. The video was clear. Toledo was compliant with the officer, putting his hands up as the officer had ordered him to. Toledo was then shot once in the chest. Toledo’s hands were up in the air and he did not have a gun in his hands. The video can be seen here. Viewer discretion is advised.

This video exposed city officials’ lies of a gun being present. These officials include the Mayor, prosecutors with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), whose primary task is to investigate cases of police misconduct. Shortly thereafter the name of the officer who killed Toledo came out. Eric Stillman, who has been placed on a 30-day administrative leave, has had three misconduct complaints in five years with CPD.

With the release of the video footage, protests were immediately called demanding justice for Toledo. The city prepared for unrest by protecting the business districts, threatening to raise the Chicago bridges and adding city salt and sanitation trucks to block off many streets.

The Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago deemed the video evidence would show the shooting was justified. The people say differently. 

The April 16 protest began with chants that included, “Adam Toledo didn’t have to die!”; “La migra, la policía, la misma porqueria!”; and “No justice, no peace, abolish the police!”

There were many speakers from activist groups throughout Chicago, including Únete La Villita, Chicago Freedom School, GoodKids MadCity and others.

A speaker from Únete La Villita demanded that Chicago “defund the police, abolish the police, fund us.” She called for rent control, COVID relief funds, and justice for Adam Toledo, Anthony Alavarez, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. “Nobody deserves to die at the hands of the police, especially kids,” she declared.

A speaker from Justice for Families called for unity: “We got to get together, and we got to stay together. Every day. Every Time.” She also demanded the body-cam footage from the Alvarez shooting be released. “This is lynching. This is lynching,” she cried.

Among the speakers were families of victims killed by police, including the mother of Marc Anthony Navarez, killed by CPD in October 2020. “Let our kids bury their parents. Not the parents burying their kids,” she cried. The cousin of Alvarez also spoke pointing out the lack of transparency from the CPD.

Families, students and community organizers also spoke at the rally portion of the protest; all demanded justice for victims of police terror in Chicago. A speaker from the Chicago Freedom School said, “Justice for Adam looks like abolishing the police and investing in community.” He said he knew the police were not there for his protection, recalling a time in third grade when a school resource officer threatened him with jail time for breaking a pencil.

The march shut down the streets and uplifted the neighborhood. Many came outside of their homes to cheer on and chant with the marchers. The demonstrators attempted to bring the demand for justice straight to the Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home but were blocked off by police barricades. Despite the barricades, thousands remained in the streets for hours.

Some police officers around the country are now being charged because of the people’s movement. This is a far cry from the full justice and social transformation that is needed but to refuse this limited retribution attainable under capitalism is to let killer cops off free. In Chicago, the murderers of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez are still free. 

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