A Look At Little Village, The Chicago Community Where Police Shot Adam Toledo

Apr 16, 2021
Originally published on April 16, 2021 6:21 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Chicago, residents are still reeling from the release of a video yesterday that shows a 13-year-old boy with his hands above his head seconds before a police officer shot and killed him. Adam Toledo lived in the city's Little Village community, where many of the residents are Latino, like Toledo. As WBEZ's Maria Ines Zamudio reports, unlike the universal call for police accountability after many police shootings, the storyline is a little different in Little Village.

MARIA INES ZAMUDIO, BYLINE: The two young women are sitting in the alley where 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed last month. They quietly comfort each other after viewing the video of Toledo being shot following a foot chase with police at 2:30 in the morning on March 29. A few feet away, there's a shrine for the seventh-grader, and in the middle, a white candle with a message saying, I'm so sorry for you and your family. I'm so sorry you had to be a martyr. I promise to fight hard for you. Adam's mother said her son had been missing for two days when police showed up at her door.

Adeena Weiss-Ortiz represents the Toledo family and told reporters Toledo's mother was upset over messages she had been receiving.

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ADEENA WEISS-ORTIZ: She's been getting messages from the community, that the community is judging her. She wants to let you know that she was a full-time mom and a homemaker to five children, that on Sunday night, she put her son to bed in a room that he shared with his little brother.

ZAMUDIO: Many residents here openly question why a 13-year-old boy would be out in the middle of the night running from police. Angel Rivera runs an after-school program in Little Village. He says it's unfair to blame the family for Toledo's death.

ANGEL RIVERA: There's such a small margin for error for our youth that they really have to be the straight-A student, and it's, like, these unrealistic goals when you consider how under-resourced and unsupported they are.

ZAMUDIO: Kim Wasserman-Nieto is with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. She says many Mexican immigrants buy into the idea that if you work hard enough and study hard enough, their kids will be shielded from racism.

KIM WASSERMAN-NIETO: So this wasn't a question of his mother not loving him. His mother loved him to death. She filed a police report 'cause he was missing. They genuinely loved that child.

ZAMUDIO: Little Village is home to one of the biggest county jails in the country. For decades, this community experienced unrelenting gang violence. And last year, the pandemic ravaged this community with one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the city. Wasserman-Nieto says the teens in this community are constantly under a microscope.

KIM WASSERMAN-NIETO: At every turn, somebody's judging you. At every turn, there's somebody who's telling you that you're doing it wrong. You know, you're too brown, or your name is too ethnic, or, you know, you looked at somebody the wrong way, you know, and 5-0 needs to come at you, right? Or you have to help your family with translation. You have to help your family, so you miss school. And then you miss school, and then they consider you a dropout.

ZAMUDIO: She says older Mexican immigrants come from a country with rampant police corruption, and local residents don't feel they are in a position to criticize police. Berto Aguayo says the police killing of Adam Toledo may help the Latino community come together and fight for accountability. Aguayo is a former gang member who now works for the violence prevention program Increase the Peace.

BERTO AGUAYO: It just hit me that we are Adam, you know? Like, we truly are Adam, you know, because I saw myself in that video. I saw my cousins in that video. I saw our youth that we work with.

ZAMUDIO: Aguayo says he was able to escape gangs only because he got the support he needed.

AGUAYO: I'm only here because people in the community gave me the resources and opportunities that the system and that our community just didn't have.

ZAMUDIO: As others in the city focused on changing police policies and tactics, he says young people in communities of color deserve more attention. For NPR News, I'm Maria Ines Zamudio in Chicago.

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