Content Warning: This article contains references to police-inflicted racial violence.
Last weekend, thousands of people took to Logan Square on Chicago’s Northwest side to demand justice for Adam Toledo, an unarmed 13-year-old Latino boy who was shot in the chest and killed by a Chicago police officer in late March. The officer claimed that Toledo was holding a firearm in his hand and posed a threat, but body camera footage showed Toledo’s hands as empty and raised at the time he was shot. Toledo’s mother described her son as an imaginative, goofy and curious boy who loved animals, legos, pizza, zombies, cartoons and, ironically, wanted to be a police officer himself.
Roughly 400 miles away in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, residents gathered to demand justice for Daunte Wright, an ambitious and unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by a tenured veteran officer on April 11 outside a Minneapolis suburb. Wright, who was 20 years old, was a doting father and had hopes of becoming an NBA player, fashion designer and business owner.
When initially stopped by the police, Wright called his mother. The police then asked him to step out of the car and hang up the phone, attempted to arrest him, and then pursued his car as he drove away. Kim Potter, who is being charged with second-degree manslaughter, has maintained that she thought she was using a taser instead of a gun, although many authorities have reported that it would be nearly impossible to make that mistake.
Faced with trauma and outrage, Minneapolis residents — who were already apprehensive about the then ongoing Derek Chauvin trial — have called for accountability and justice through emotional protests on Brooklyn Center streets, walkout demonstrations in 118 schools across the state and candlelight vigils at the scene of his death. Many other demonstrations were held across the country in solidarity with Minnesota.
Wright’s murder occurred roughly 11 miles from where former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin murdered George Floyd last May and where Chauvin was standing trial for the murder the world saw him commit. Chauvin is now convicted guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Though the deaths of Wright and Toledo have been highly covered by the media, there have been many other instances of police shootings throughout the country. Nine hundred eighty- two people have been shot and killed by the police in the past year, according to a Washington Post investigation that began after police killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, in 2014.
Toledo is one of three known youths killed by the Chicago Police Department. Anthony Alvarez and Travon Chadwell also became victims of CPD within two weeks of each other. CPD has murdered at least twelve minors since 2013, and the department has killed more children than any other law enforcement agency in the United States.
As reported in the Washington Post investigation, there have been 924 police shootings in California since 2015.
Two weeks before Toledo was shot in Chicago, the Los Angeles Police Department shot six people over a seven day period: on March 16, LAPD officers shot two people in separate instances less than two hours apart from each other — one of which occurred right outside of USC; less than 24 hours later, LAPD shot someone in Hollenbeck while in a moving vehicle; two days later, LAPD shot another two men during separate instances — one man walking by MacArthur Park who the police acknowledged as either mentally ill or intoxicated, and another shot during a traffic stop; the last shooting during the seven-day-period occurred when the LAPD shot a Black man near Koreatown and Pico Union early morning, before the sun had even risen.
Earlier this month, the LAPD released body cam footage of the events that led up to the fourth shooting, which shows officers follow a Latino man acknowledged by them as intoxicated or mentally ill down a street near MacArthur Park. The officers followed the man, later identified as Samuel Ponce, for fifteen minutes while shooting him with their foam projectiles as he repeatedly yelled out, “help me, holy father.” After cornering him on a curb, an officer pulled out a gun and shot him.
According to the Office of the Inspector General, of the LAPD initiated stops in 2019, 47% were Hispanic, 27% were Black and 18% were white, identifying deep racial disparities. Policing is also most prevalent in low income Black and Latinx communities such as Central L.A., which has a rate of police stops four times higher than West L.A., which is over 70% non-Hispanic white. Additionally, once the officers initiate the stop, Black and Latino males are more likely to be asked to step out of the car, have their car searched, receive a pat-down-search and get placed in handcuffs.
Police officers, who are meant to ensure safety on their assigned constituencies, impose grave harm on Black and brown communities.
Regardless of where one stands on policing, people must realize the degree to which police officers fail to serve Black and brown communities, especially when lives are taken at such high rates. How many innocent Black and Latinx children will have to grow up being stopped and harassed by the police, or even lose their lives, before society realizes the lack of accountability and the dire need for reckoning involved within our current policing systems?
In a society where a common reaction to injustice is performative activism, we must stay vigilant. Media coverage and public outrage spread like wildfire in the days and nights following the incident, but after the spark dies down, the cycle starts again. We must stand with Black and brown communities across the country to demand change.
If not, then the cycle will continue. We can’t just wait for police to shoot another person like they killed Toledo and Wright. Even when no incident occurs, Black and brown people still fear for their lives walking down the streets or at a stop, knowing the police will not protect them.
Still skeptical? Let this sink in: On Tuesday, just minutes before Derek Chauvin was convicted for three counts of murder for the killing of George Floyd last May, the Colombus Police Department in Ohio shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl named Ma’Khia Bryant, a high school honor roll student, outside her foster home.
The cycle continues: after a year long odyssey to convict Derek Chauvin, another innocent Black life is taken at the hands of police. We must stay vigilant in confronting the systematic oppression and brutality that policing causes Black and Brown communities. Regardless of the circumstance, police are not executioners. There is no justice. There is no peace. There is only murder, racism and injustice disguised under the pretense of a badge.
Victoria Valenzuela is a junior writing about criminal justice and prison reform and policies. Her column, “Breaking Out,” runs every other Thursday.