I couldn’t bring myself to watch the footage. I knew what I’d see – a teenage boy, barely able to hold up his own jeans. Before pressing “play” to enable me to write this piece, wincing as I did so, I forced myself to take in the grainy image of Adam Toledo staring back into the eyes of the police officer chasing him down a dark alleyway in the early hours of 29 March: hands in the air, wearing an oversized black Nike hoody, scruffy cap on backwards. The words on his chest, “Just Do It”, like a premonition. Moments later, after a single round was fired into his chest, he was dead.
The distressing video was released on Thursday by Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. We are told Adam’s family witnessed it on Wednesday – an ordeal I can’t begin to fathom. I have two young children, and my daughter is just a few years younger than Adam Toledo was when he died. The boys in her class are likely similar to Adam and his friends at school – goofy smiles, awkward bodies, problematic skin, obsessed with video games, music and skateboarding. I can only imagine the horror of what it felt like for his parents to watch their son die on screen.
We don’t know exactly what happened in the moments leading up to Adam’s death – we do know that the nine-minute video from Chicago police officer Eric Stillman’s body camera shows him running after Adam at 2.30am in Little Village, a Mexican neighbourhood on the city’s West Side.
He shouts, “Stop” to Adam, who starts raising his (empty) hands less than a second before he is shot. Later, the images are filled with staccato-panic – a light shines on a handgun on the ground near Adam’s body; paramedics perform CPR to try to save his life.
Prosecutors had previously said the boy was holding a gun when he was shot; in the video, he appears to be unarmed. But regardless of what now emerges of the precise nature of the backstory leading up to the tragic alleyway chase, a boy is dead. A family is grieving.
And at the heart of this tragedy is that Adam isn’t the first – and he certainly won’t be the last. Because we may now have 13-year-olds dying on camera, but still, nothing changes. We keep watching the haunting footage, we keep hearing of an ever-increasing death toll. Yet people keep using guns.
Earlier this week, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot dead by officers from the Brooklyn Center Police Department after he was pulled over in a traffic stop. Daunte had a two-year-old son.
Tamir Rice was just 12 when he was shot in 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio, by white police officer Timothy Loehmann. Tamir was reportedly carrying a replica toy gun – he was killed almost immediately, after police arrived at the scene.
Breonna Taylor – a medical worker – died after a botched raid on her apartment last year. She was in bed with her with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shortly after midnight, when plainclothed police officers forced their way in.
Last year, 20,000 Americans were killed by guns, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, and an additional 24,000 people died by suicide using a gun.
And if this feels like it’s happening almost all the time, that’s because it is: last night, eight people were shot and killed by a gunman at a FedEx facility in the US city of Indianapolis.
Sometimes the victims are random. All too often, they’re members of Bame communities. How many fathers, mothers, medical workers and kids have to die before America wakes up?
That’s why we should all support US President Joe Biden’s pledge to take action on gun violence – he announced a range of actions last week to aim to stop the sale of so-called “ghost guns”; and encourage the adoption of “red-flag” gun laws, denouncing gun violence in America as an “epidemic” and an “international embarrassment”.
Because he’s right: there is a scourge blighting America, but it’s not teenagers running down alleyways – it’s guns. And we’ll keep seeing horrific body-cam footage showing the killing of kids like Adam Toledo, until someone like Biden is brave enough to scrap the Second Amendment, altogether.