OPINION: We Are All Holding Up Our Hands

May 20, 2021
2:18 PM

Andrea Fernanda Serrano kneels as she pays her respect to the site where 13-year-old Adam Toledo. was shot by police now marked with a mural in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Friday, April 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

By Prisma Garcia

With the killing of Adam Toledo by Chicago police, I cannot help but think of Santos Rodriguez, who was killed by Dallas police in 1973. A child was falsely accused and murdered. The officer served only a couple of years in prison; he got off easy.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez was not the first time that the police used force against Latinos unnecessarily. We can trace racism in policing back to the Texas Rangers. According to Latino Studies Sociologist Julian Samora, they became famous for their brutality against innocent Native Americans and Mexican Americans.

Sociologist Alfredo Mirandé wrote in The Chicano Experience in 1985 about the everyday occurrences of lynchings and hangings of Mexicans in the mines in the early 1900s. In history, Latinos have always been called “barbaric,” “inferior,” and “bandits.” The Texas Rangers (los rinches) evoked the most fear and distrust; they were said to protect the Texas frontier from Mexicans. Many corridos talked about the incidents. Police brutality against Latinos has a long history.

Police brutality is not new. We see a spectrum from discrimination to murder.

Several years ago, I had a minor car accident in a mall parking lot. The woman in the other vehicle called the police even though I was offering my information. No one was hurt. The police arrived, and they threatened to handcuff me despite the fact that I was cooperating. They asked me to apologize and take fault. I refused to do either but did not understand why I was the only one asked to do this. After being in the lot for over an hour, in tears, the police finally let me get on with my day but refused to acknowledge how extremely they treated me. I was naive and offered a handshake for peace. The officer refused to shake my hand.

This is just the everyday type of abuse I experience as a woman of color.

Mario González was also a victim of the police this year in Alameda, California. The California man was pinned down for five minutes and suffered a medical emergency. Although Gonzalez was under the influence, he should not have been pinned to the ground. This death was avoidable, but officers did not take correct action. Gonzalez was reported as a threat, and that’s what led to his death.

In another case, Andrés Guardado, 18 years old, was shot in Gardena, California, not once but five times to his death in 2020. There was no bodycam footage, and the police claimed this was gang-related even though there was no proof.

Too often, Latinos are criminalized because we are not white. With former president Trump calling out bad hombres, the assumption that all brown people are “illegal,” or even with laws that aim to incarcerate more of our people, Latinos are more likely to have police contact, particularly at traffic and street stops. Police are more likely to use force against Latinos than against white individuals.

When viewing the footage of Adam’s murder, the officer’s bodycam footage shows a kid running in an alley. Chicago police acknowledge that foot chases are more likely to end in death.

We keep hearing that the boy was possibly armed, but that doesn’t change the fact that he lost his life. The video shows a lean, tall kid who was probably scared. “Hold up your f–ing hands.”

Adam holds up his hands—to his death. He was picked up at 5:02 a.m., and 19 minutes later, Adam arrived at the morgue.

Now, the youth in the neighborhood live in fear for their lives as they should. Hispanic children’s risk of death by police is almost three times higher than that of white children.

A Washington Post investigation found that between 2015 and 2020, Latinos died at a rate of 23 per million residents after encounters with police, second only to Black people.

We cannot trust a system that kills our youth, and 63% of Hispanic Americans say major changes are needed in policing.

The symbolism of holding your hands up is surrendering your being, and sometimes your soul to a greater power that you hope protects you. But the police didn’t protect Adam.

Perhaps some might say it was only one life or no way to know all the circumstances. Yet, I do know that we cannot allow police to kill our children. Even one child is one too many. It is frustrating to think that people want to dismiss this as a one-time issue, but we know it is not.

Police must never again shoot one of our children. Never again question if a child deserved to live.

In response to those that question the gun or the parents, that does not dismiss the fact that a child lost his life. We know that teens have been charged with crimes that they were guilty of, which is also a tragedy in our modern society. It shows us that we have more significant problems.

Chicago police officer Eric Stillman needs to know that he will be punished. And we shouldn’t stop talking about these deaths. We owe it to so many, including George Floyd, who was murdered a year ago. Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted, but that is just a small step towards justice. Do not stop talking about Ma’Khia Bryant and Santos Rodríguez. Do not stop talking about Adam Toledo and so many others.

“Are you ok?” Officer Stillman asks as Toledo’s blood pours.

No, sir. We are not.


Prisma Y. Garcia is a community member of the Pleasant Grove neighborhood and the Director of Capacity Building at Social Venture Partners Dallas. She is a social impact professional and 2021 Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.