In the alleyway facing 24th Street between Spaulding and Sawyer avenues lies a memorial embellished with veladoras next to some lilies and white balloons tied to a pole. Across the street is Farragut Career Academy High School. Surrounding it all is the Little Village neighborhood, otherwise known as La Villita.

On April 5, the Little Village neighborhood gathered in a vigil to collectively mourn and remember the life of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Through tears, community leaders spoke of the pain of losing a loved one to police violence again. One speaker reminded the community of the 43 college students in Mexico who went missing at the behest of Mexican police six years ago. Toledo, too, was a student. He was a seventh grader at Gary Elementary.

“[La Villita] is like a family,” said 23-year-old Kristian Armendariz, a resident of Little Village and member of the Little Village Community Council. “Every neighbor looks out for each other in any way they can. That’s how I feel with Adam. This happened in my neighborhood. Man, that’s family. That could have been my 13-year-old cousin.”

This is the community that surrounded Toledo before he was shot and killed by a Chicago Police Department (CPD) police officer on March 29. According to a statement from his family, Toledo lived with two of his siblings, his mother and his 90-year-old grandfather. He shared a room with his younger brother. 

In a press conference days after his death, his mother choked back tears as she described his love for Legos and Hot Wheels.

A memorial for Adam Toledo can be seen during a rally in Little Village on April 6, 2021. Photo by Grace Del Vecchio // The TRiiBE
Jalen Kobayashi, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, spoke at the April 6 rally in Little Village. Photo by Grace Del Vecchio // The TRiiBE

In the early morning hours of March 29, near the alleyway where his memorial now lies, Toledo was with 21-year-old Ruben Roman. According to CPD, officers were dispatched to the area in response to sensors from a gunshot detection system called Shotspotter. 

Upon arrival, the officers began to chase Toledo and Roman on foot. Roman was taken to the ground first and detained, while another officer continued to chase after Toledo. Police say that he had a gun and was asked to “drop it.” Seconds later, he was shot dead. Video from the bodycam footage was released on the afternoon of April 15.

The graphic video shows the chase. After the officer commands Toledo to show his hands, Toledo stopped, turned towards the officer and raised his hands in the air seconds before he was shot. Toledo did not have a gun in his hands at the time he was shot.

Toledo’s family wasn’t notified of his death until two days later because, police say, they could not identify him despite a missing person’s report that was filed for him a few days prior. Roman now faces felony charges of a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, as well as child endangerment and violating probation. 

Undulating waves of rage and sadness rippled through the Little Village community after news broke of the 13-year-old’s death. News outlets pointed out that Toledo is the youngest person killed by CPD in years.

Although officials immediately portrayed Toledo as just an “armed person” and then later suggested that he shouldn’t have been out at 2:30 a.m., Toledo is a child from La Villita, with a family and a community that loved him dearly. How does a community begin to heal from a tragedy like this?

“Pues como Mexicanos, encabronados,” said Baltazar Enriquez, president of the Little Village Community Council. Anger, he said, is what had him planted at the intersection of 24th and Spaulding demanding answers during a rally on April 6. “I’m angry because they send these murderers to police us in our own neighborhoods.” 

At a press conference after the shooting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed to find the people responsible for “putting a gun into the hands” of Toledo, which actively shifts responsibility and blame away from the police officer that killed him. 

At the same press conference, Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward) added to the pile of blame. “This young man had nobody,” he said. “Nobody that could help him, except a gang. So, shame on us. I own that.” CPD officials have not confirmed whether Toledo was affiliated with a gang. 

Then, the next day, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn started a firestorm of controversy when he wrote that it was “too early” to blame the police or to “label this a murder in the name of ‘justice,’” but was quick to assure his audience that it was “not too early to stop romanticizing and infantilizing 13-year-olds.”

Although Zorn later said he regretted using that “tone,” he nonetheless used his platform at the most-read daily newspaper in Chicago to enable his audience into victim-blaming a child.

"This happened in my neighborhood. Man, that’s family. That could have been my 13-year-old cousin," said 23-year-old Kristian Armendariz, a resident of Little Village and member of the Little Village Community Council. Photo by Grace Del Vecchio // The TRiiBE
A young girl marching at the April 6 rally for Adam Toledo in Little Village. Photo by Grace Del Vecchio // The TRiiBE

“To hold and hide his body for 48 hours, and then go to the media to fix the story, concoct a story, and then criminalize the kid by saying, ‘He was out there at 2:30 at night. He shouldn’t be out there that late. Well he had a gun.’ That’s the story they’re selling us,” said Enriquez. 

In a statement to the TRiiBE, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) said that the district offers crisis support and grief resources for all school communities after the death of a student or staff member. Although CPS couldn’t go into detail with Toledo’s case, given privacy laws, they did offer examples of what support may include:

* Support for students/staff from the crisis support team, which is run by the district.

* In coordination with the district, a school community may develop a crisis support plan that includes on-site support for students and staff. In addition to this plan, school staff would be connected with support.

* The district would contact the student or staff members’s family to connect them with additional supports and grief resources.

* The family would also be connected with CPS’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives (OFBI) which offers funeral support.

“My children need social workers and psychiatrists,” said Enriquez. “They’re traumatized. We need mental health services. We don’t even have a mental health clinic in Little Village.” 

In the statement, CPS failed to mention that the crisis support team only has four crisis coordinators for the 514 schools in the district, according to CPS employee position files. The option for schools to create a long-term crisis support plan for the school community relies on the overworked staff at the school. Most schools are understaffed. Meanwhile, CPS still maintains a $12 million contract with CPD for School Resource Officers (SRO) at 55 high schools. 

“What does it mean when the folks who are the purveyors of trauma are in relationship and integrated within the folks doing crisis response? These are questions that we have to ask ourselves, ask these systems,” said Claudio Rivera, a clinical-community psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Northwestern University. “I see some potential challenges or limitations in that response.” 

The SRO partnership between CPD and CPS makes it difficult to see how the district is prepared to provide crisis support for the school community at Gary Elementary, which must now process the loss of one of their students, according to Rivera.


And another layer of limitation to crisis support, Rivera said, is that neighborhoods and school communities are often one and the same in CPS.

“Even if you remove policing from schools, young people are still going into those settings knowing that they themselves or their loved ones will have to confront those realities outside of the school doors,” Rivera said. “It’s almost impossible to create environments of healing when safety is compromised.” 

For Armendariz and Enriquez, they’re unsure what healing in their community can look like. “But we want justice,” said Enriquez. “That could’ve been my child, my nephew, my brother. We want justice for our community.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.