Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, stood alongside leaders of the city’s Latinx community on Thursday and called for calm in the city and “deep empathy” as body camera video was released for the first time of a police officer shooting dead 13-year-old Adam Toledo last month.
Lightfoot, her voice breaking while speaking at a press conference before the footage was released to the public, describing the video as “incredibly difficult to watch, particularly at the end” and said “we failed Adam”.
Toledo was shot and killed by police on 29 March following a foot pursuit by officers.
At the time of the shooting, Toledo was with Ruben Roman, 21, who has been charged with several felonies in connection to that night including child endangerment and reckless discharge of a firearm.
The authorities had initially indicated that Toledo had a gun in his hand as he turned towards officers during the chase, after failing to obey commands to stop.
But video released on Thursday showed Toledo stopping as the officer shouts after him, turning and putting his hands up, with no sign of any weapon. The boy is then shot in the chest by the officer from a short distance away.
The officer was identified on Thursday as Eric Stillman, 34, a white man who has been with the department since August 2015.
“I want to ask again that everyone tuning in right now think first and foremost about Adam Toledo, about what his family is enduring every single day since they learned of his passing,” Lightfoot said at the press conference.
Information on the shooting, including Toledo’s age, was not made public until days after it happened. Elizabeth Toledo, Adam’s mother, had not been notified about his death until two days after the shooting, leaving her to think her son was missing.
On Thursday, Lightfoot said: “We failed Adam and we cannot afford to fail one more young person in our city.”
During the press conference, the mayor spoke on a number of issues related to Toledo’s death, including fractured trust between Chicago’s marginalized communities and police officers, the importance of investing in Chicago’s youth through social programs, and implementing meaningful gun reform to prevent more illegal firearms from entering Chicago.
Adam Toledo had “a big imagination and curiosity”, loved animals and riding his bicycle and had a fascination with zombies, his mother said in a statement.
“He even had this zombie apocalypse bag packed and ready to go. May he rest in peace,” she said.
Elizabeth Toledo said in early April that that two days after the shooting, police had reached out to the family asking for a photo of Adam. She thought it was for his missing persons report but about 30 minutes later the police knocked on her door asking her to go to the medical examiner’s office to identify his body, she said in an interview with local media outlet Block Club Chicago.
Protests have taken place across the city, calling for transparency and accountability, as many are angered by a string of police-involved shootings that have killed young Chicagoans in recent weeks.
In addition to Toledo’s death last month, Anthony Alverz, 22, and Travon Chadwell, 18, were killed by Chicago police in March. These police-involved shootings have coincided with the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with murdering 46-year-old George Floyd last May, as well as renewed protests over the police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man shot by police during a traffic stop last Sunday.
While Lightfoot avoided talking at the press conference about previous reports about Toledo holding a gun, as prosecutors charging Roman have alleged, the mayor did confirm that there was “no evidence whatsoever that Adam Toledo shot at the police”.
Video footage entering the public domain appeared to suggest neither that Adam Toledo fired at police nor that he was holding a weapon.
The Toledo family, who viewed the videos on Tuesday, asked for the recordings not to be immediately released to the public.
As more protests were planned for Thursday night following the release of the footage, Lightfoot, as well as Toledo’s family, have asked for peace amid rising tensions across the city.
“We acknowledge that the release of this video is the first step in the process toward the healing of the family, the community and our city,” read a joint statement made by Lightfoot and Toledo’s family lawyers.
“We understand that the release of this video will be incredibly painful and elicit an emotional response to all who view it, and we ask that people express themselves peacefully,” the statement added.
Increasing police accountability was a key part of Lightfoot’s election platform when she was running for mayor. She has served in the role since 2019.