OPINION: On Adam Toledo and Guns

Apr 19, 2021
8:59 AM

Demonstrators protest the shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Logan Park in Chicago. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

CHICAGO — The loading docks of most warehouses are a place where drivers gather to discuss all sorts of things. On April 16, there was only one subject that held the attention of all the drivers. Conversation focused on the video of Chicago police killing 13-year-old, Adam Toledo. In our group of drivers there was one mother who offered the following, “I only wish he would have kept running. At least he would have had a chance. That’s why I tell my son to run. If he stops, he’s dead.”

This is where we are. This is the best advice we can give a 13-year-old boy. I know how crazy it sounds. I almost didn’t believe it myself when she said it. No doubt some readers will pause here and think that this is the wrong advice. I get it. At first, I thought it was the wrong advice too.

Once my truck was loaded, I drove away from the docks and continued with my route. I drove alone with plenty of time to feel. Most of the morning, I felt sad until I got angry. I’m angry that a child complied and still got murdered. Adam stopped running, turned around and put his hands in the air. He was not a threat. He was a scared boy.

After Adam Toledo, how can anyone of us ever tell a child to listen to the cops? How can anyone of us ever tell a child to stop running? Certainly, we can’t tell them to put their hands in the air. We can’t say these things if our goal is to protect the child. These things will not protect them. Compliance failed Adam.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked Chicago to withhold judgment until the end of the investigation. The mayor wants us to listen to all the facts. According to the mayor, the police are entitled to an investigation with facts. Adam didn’t get an investigation. Adam didn’t get facts. The police judged him and the verdict was execution.

This is where we are. A sad realization that telling children to listen to police is dangerous advice. Some readers may argue that there are other things a mother can tell her 13-year-old besides running from police or complying with them. They may argue that children shouldn’t have guns. I get it. At first, I thought that too.

After my driving shift, I went to the protest in Logan Square. Youth speakers lead chants for the crowd of what was at least a couple thousand. I heard the usual chants that make their way into every protest, but then I heard a chant I’ve never heard before. Slowly, the weight of an entire rally crying, “Adam, we love you!” pressed into me until a childhood memory was exorcised from my subconscious.

When I was Adam’s age, I held a gun for the first time. It wasn’t mine. I didn’t hold on to it for very long. I eventually gave it back to its owner. That’s it. That’s the whole story. I never fired the weapon. I was never a danger to society. It’s a memory I had long forgotten because it has nothing to do with who I am or how I live my life. I realize now that the only reason this memory is a boring story is because there wasn’t a cop around. I realize that cops make things dangerous.

I was Adam’s age when I started to sag my shorts. I was Adam’s age when I idolized the Mexican men in my neighborhood that stood up to authority. But now I’m in my thirties with a receding hairline and grey hairs in my beard. Now I know that those “men” I idolized were also children—maybe only 15, 16 or 17 years old. Now I know that the “authority” they stood up to were mostly teachers desperately trying to get them to do their homework. Hindsight is 2020, but Adam Toledo will never get the benefit of hindsight.

We know what the police will say. We know what they are already saying. First, they said he had a gun when he was shot. Then the video was released and it was clear there was no gun when he was shot. Now they’re saying he had a gun when the chase began. The entire argument will be that Adam ran away and threw a gun on the ground. What I’m asking you to think about is not the hypotheticals of why Adam had a gun or what he planned to do with it. What I’m asking you to engage with is the facts that there were at least two guns on the scene. Only one was fired on camera. The person who fired the gun is alive today. The child is dead.

I’m pissed that Adam was robbed of a future. There’s no use in speculating what he would have become. What matters is that he will never become it. And the question is why? Is it because of a gun that was not in his hand when he was murdered?

Adam, we love you. We know you were not dangerous. We know you had a world to discover. Please understand, Adam, when I say I’m pissed, I’m not pissed at you. I don’t care if you had a gun. I don’t care if it was 2 a.m. This was not your fault. Wherever you are, I hope you don’t have to run anymore. I hope you don’t have to raise your hands anymore. I hope you’re not scared anymore. Adam, Little Village loves you! Chicago loves you! The world loves you!

What do we do about children with guns? If I asked one hundred people, I might get one hundred different answers. I don’t claim to have easy answers. The only thing I believe is that not one person would suggest that killing children is the answer. And yet, this is where we are.


Arturo “Tootie” Alvarez is based in Chicago. He trucks. He writes. Not at the same time. Twitter @TootieAlvarez.