A chilly Thursday for the season and not quite the weekend, it was a good night to stay in.
You weren't able to go out to eat, after all. Well, not really, you know? You weren't able go to a show. Hell, it still felt like you weren't supposed to go see your family unless the moon was in a waxing or waning gibbous phase and Mercury was in its greatest eastern elongation and one of the annual meteor showers was active or whatever other astrological events or mediums or tarot card readers they were consulting for public health guidance.
Your job or maybe your own small business was hanging by a thread and the finances were thin. The kids weren't able to go to school. They weren't able to play team sports or do extracurriculars. They were barely allowed to play in the parks together. Not like they used to, at least.
Yeah, April 15, 2021, was a good night to stay in.
"What are we watching tonight, honey?" Your spouse called from the other room.
"Oh there's a new one that's been hyped for weeks! I mean...they wouldn't do all this for something small, you know?"
"Really? What's it about?"
"Here's the description...as shots ring out in the early morning hours and a Chicago Police Officer chases down the suspects, two lives will cross and a split second decision will change the city forever..."
Did you make your popcorn? Did you get comfortable on the couch? Snuggle close to a loved one? Cycle through the options on your Smart TV and finally settle on the summer's latest blockbuster?
Are you not entertained?
I assume you've seen it by now? Did you all talk about it around the water cooler? Analyze it on your smoke break? Did you "tsk-tsk" on lunch? Did you listen to your Uncle's drunk Sunday evening ramblings or roll your eyes at your Aunt's Facebook post?
Did you consume all you could on your endless social media feeds and cheer on your favorite trolls clapping back and forth at each other as they bounced anxiously sitting on their typing hands and borderline foaming at the mouth barely able to contain their live reaction videos as they waited to see the video of a 13 year old, Adam Toledo, be shot in the chest by a Chicago Police Officer on March 29th at 2:38am in a Little Village alley on Chicago's West Side?
Did the video prove your pre-selected narrative right and the other side's narrative wrong? Would you ever admit to being hopeful it would? Would you ever admit to being happy if it did?
I admit, I have strong opinions regarding a 13 year old hanging out with a 21 year old who chose 2:30 in the morning in a Little Village alleyway to do target practice and use passing cars as their bullseye, and I admit to having strong opinions about the mother and father in this situation's relationship and their parenting behavior, but neither of the two main characters of this play, Adam Toledo nor Officer Eric Stillman, neither of the two lead pawns in this grand chess game deserved any of this. And I'm not here to castigate either of the two.
I, too, had brief run-ins with the law when I was young, including running away from the police. No, I was not a gang member and, no, none of those brief run-ins with the law involved firearms, but I was no stranger to firearms at that age. While the people who taught me chose licensed shooting ranges during the day and wide open fields in the country and drilled into me the 4 universal rules of gun safety, I learned to shoot prior to age 13.
No, Adam Toledo should not have been out in the early morning hours with a gun in his hand playing wannabe gangster, but he was still a 13 year old kid. A 13 year old kid who was held out of school for over a year by unconscionable and incompetent city leadership and wasn't given any alternative outlets whatsoever in which to place his other energies and he was a kid being recruited into a life of crime by the lowest of the low of our society exactly because he was a lost and confused 13 year old kid who, like all 13 year old kids, desperately wanted to be cool and do cool stuff and prove they're tough.
Though I hold my strong opinions on the situation, I remember the person I was at 13 years old. I was a kid. An impressionable kid. An impressionable kid who wanted to be cool and the things I thought were cool changed by the month, the week, or the day. And I was a kid who in no way, shape, or form resembled the person I am today and the loss of that 13 year old life with all of it in front of him will forever be a tragedy, regardless of the circumstances surrounding that loss.
Officer Eric Stillman
There's another side that will show little sympathy for Officer Eric Stillman who they'll certainly attempt to cast as a villain. For, in retrospect and from the comfort of our own homes where we can freeze frame and bear witness to the exact moment Officer Stillman saw the pistol and yelled for the suspect to drop it, and where we can slow down the less than a second of real-time movement for him to see the suspect turn around and make the decision to fire, they will easily and definitively tell you how they most certainly would have reacted.
There are groups and individuals who will use whatever rhetorical swill they're selling this week to try and convince you this Chicago Police Officer is and the CPD as a whole are a group of monsters. They'll make whatever salacious nonsense argument they can muster to make all listening believe Officer Eric Stillman decided to go to work that late March night excited and hopeful that he'd have any excuse and opportunity to send a bullet through the chest of a child. And, despite any and all evidence presented to them that he was a patrol officer responding to real-life actual gunshots fired in the middle of the Little Village neighborhood at 2:30 in the morning with no knowledge whatsoever that he was going to be chasing down a 13 year old, and even after they watched him dive on top of Adam Toledo to try to save him and heard the angst in his voice as he tried to reverse that which had been done, they'll try to make him out to be a cold-hearted, cold-blooded murderer of a child.
And not one of them will volunteer to protect their communities from gang violence. Not one of them will ever consider even taking a significant pay increase to literally run toward gun shots in the middle of the night to protect however small the community of good people who live there.
I, too, have never served or protected any of the communities I've lived in anywhere near the complicated capacity required to be a Chicago Police Officer, particularly in our modern era, but the difference between me and the above mentioned bonafide jagoffs is I will readily admit that with a judge and jury of political peers in this town I absolutely never would.
But Officer Eric Stillman did. And Officer Eric Stillman will have to live with the memory of that night for the rest of his life. And no matter how many sophists take the podium and deliver their soliloquies nor how many of the aforementioned societal dregs that cruise social media try to bully any who dare suggest otherwise, that, too, is also a tragedy, regardless of the circumstances.
Ruben Roman: The Recruiter
In case you're not aware, the current modus operandi of gangs in this city is to have children do their dirty work for them. Be it petty property theft, drug dealing, and even the violent crimes like carjacking or murder, they recruit the children to do the crimes for them because they know they'll be treated, well, with kid gloves by political idealogues disguising themselves as local prosecutors. Prosecutors with little care for any type of law and order and even less care for the law-abiding citizens who have the audacity to want to continue to live and function in a safe society. You know, prosecutors like Kim Foxx.
I think what's been most telling in the weeks following the Toledo shooting, the easiest way to summarize to outsiders how it feels to live in the backwards, upside-down, clown world that modern Chicago has become is in the treatment of individuals like Ruben Roman. Ruben Roman is the 21-year-old that Adam Toledo was out with in the middle of the night and early morning hours of March 29th. He's the 21-year-old who was indoctrinating, recruiting, grooming this literal child into the life of the gangster that has plagued this city for more than a century and really much further back than that, long before Capone and the likes of Thompson took over and on back through the years.
The names and the rackets may change but the people are all the same.
Sure enough, not 21 days after Adam Toledo was killed, Ruben Roman was released from jail on electronic monitoring after the Chicago Community Bond Fund posted the $40,000 bail he faced. The same person who fired the shots that brought Officer Eric Stillman and the other officers to that alley near Farragut Academy and the same person who lied about his identity and the identity of Adam Toledo for two days after Toledo lay dead in that alley.
Oh, and if you're wondering, the Adam Toledo incident portion of Ruben Roman's bail was only $15,000 while the remaining $25,000 was for a 2019 case in which Roman was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, resisting arrest, and other charges...
So let me ask you a hypothetical. If Ruben Roman were caught in that Little Village alley near Farragut Academy on March 29th at 2:30 in the morning with a gun in his hand on top of a 13-year-old girl, what would your reaction be? How would you feel about him preying on that young person? How would you feel about Ruben Roman being released from jail ever let alone 21 days after he was found with a gun atop a young 13-year-old girl? Would anyone like to pose that question to the leaders of the Chicago Community Bond Fund? Would anyone like to pose that question to Kim Foxx?
I suspect, you wouldn't be too happy or too quick to let him back into your neighborhood, would you?
So why are you okay with him tossing a gun into a 13-year-old boy's hands and telling him to run from the police because he knows that the 13-year-old will not be prosecuted by prosecutors like Kim Foxx? Why are you not marching in the streets against Ruben Roman and the gangs that prey on young children? Why are you not marching to Kim Foxx's office and demanding of her they stop releasing violent repeat criminals who are willing to recruit and groom the young people of this town into the gang lifestyle?
It sure would be nice to turn on the local news some night and see a mob outside the Cook County State's Attorney's Office demanding justice. Demanding they serve the community they were elected to serve and all the law-abiding people that live within it.
Yes, it sure would be nice. But marches and protests and demands on Prosecutor's or Mayor's or Governor's offices and the like are unnecessary.
Of course there are bad cops. Of course there are incidents that do not follow anything akin to a proper protocol and/or do not fall under anyone's reasonable expectation of the use of force. No, a police badge is not a license for lawlessness. And no, a police badge is not a free pass above and beyond our justice system. God knows this fair city has seen its fair share of men in uniform who've treated it unfairly.
But, comparative to the actual violence that plagues these streets, night in and night out, these incidents are few and far between.
As I sit here ready to wrap this piece, the Chicago Police and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability are releasing another video of another shooting incident that occurred mere days after the Adam Toledo shooting. Details about that new event remain relatively slim, but it also involves a young man running from Police Officers with a gun in his hand in the early morning hours.
Yet what you won't see released by anyone is the videos of the myriad of other crime that occurred in the week and half since the video of Adam Toledo's shooting was made public. For example, the 17-year-old boy who was shot in the head and killed, or the 17-year-old girl who was also shot in the head and killed, or the 16-year-old boy shot in both legs and a hand, he'll survive but the 19-year-old who was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting won't.
In truth, I'm not even sure if there were any more that I'm unable to find.
Oh...wait...did you think I meant citywide? No, no, no, don't be silly. That list is only in the week and half since the Adam Toledo video was released and specific to the Little Village neighborhood, where the Toledo incident took place and where gun violence that has nothing to do with police officers is up 30% on this year alone.
I won't go on a separate tangent but I could go on because in that same approximate timeframe and at the time of this publishing, the city overall has seen greater than 60 individuals shot with greater than 10 total dead. I'm not even going to begin to discuss the toddler shot on Lake Shore Drive, the 7-year-old shot in a McDonald's drive-thru, the 30-year-old woman shot and killed sitting in her SUV, the man who opened the door at his girlfriend's apartment only to be greeted by bullets, the 18-year-old girl stabbed to death...all within the time frame since the incident. I'm not going to even begin to discuss that, since the Adam Toledo incident in Little Village, the city overall for the month has had upwards of 275 total people shot with greater than 50 deaths. I'm not going to talk about the 8 people shot with 1 dead at a birthday party 3 days before the Toledo incident and I'm not going to talk about the 15 people shot with 2 dead in a single shooting incident less than 2 weeks before the Toledo shooting.
It's all so tiresome.
I'm open and happy to discuss certain reforms. Most notably the decriminalization of low level offenses like possession of cannabis if not the full legalization of the plant, the complete and total abolishment of using police officers as revenue agents for the city and state in any capacity, additional training and/or licensing to become and continue to be a police officer, and even a discussion on a significant demilitarization of American policing.
But if you can read the above paragraphs and still regurgitate that your answer to police reform is defund the police or for the police to not pursue suspected criminals in any way whatsoever or to not investigate criminal incidents like live gunfire in the middle of a neighborhood in the middle of the night as if that's in any way whatsoever acceptable to the other law-abiding people who live there, and if your bright ideas for police reform includes politely encouraging criminals to turn themselves in during working business hours, 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday, except on weekdays the CTU has declared as racist and unless those criminals aren't having a good mental health day (you know, they have other things going on and it's just not a good day for them), well, quite frankly, I'm going to laugh at and you deserve to be laughed at right in your stupid face.
There Is No Leadership Here
The leadership of this town only seems interested in trying to convince you that you should be terrified of the Chicago Police Officer. It's a political maneuver, of course. That you should be terrified of the Chicago Police Officer who every single night runs toward the type of gang violence that rages in the middle of the night in the middle of your community where you and your children sleep is a machination. You know this because, at the same time as they desperately try to convince you of that, the leadership of this town continues to utterly refuse to talk about how their policies relate to foundational cause and effect and they refuse to have the difficult conversations required to change all...this.
No, the leadership of this town is only interested in relitigating, over and over and over, exactly what happened/happens in the minutiae of the moments, what happened/happens in the literal fractions of seconds, rather than address and even criticize all the previous behaviors that led up to these incidents. It keeps you distracted. The leadership of this town only wants to focus on and discuss the immediate instances of the long list of tragedies where two life paths cross on fateful spring early mornings and that help their political paths best rather than take the honest looks in the mirror at the harsh reality reflected back at them. It helps them sleep at night.
And the people that live under this leadership continues to wonder why these events continue to happen?
See, there are ways this town could use this tragedy, and it's a tragedy from all perspectives, as an opportunity to talk and teach and educate and have honest and common sense discussions about what exactly is going on within its limits and how best to move forward as a community. There are ways forward that all involved in the discourse and the dialogue could take that would make meaningful and lasting changes and it shouldn't be difficult to get everyone on the same page.
This town could, of course, but it won't. And these incidents will never stop.
Instead, the politicians will pander at their podiums and the "non-profits" will present their Powerpoints to their donors and grant givers and the preachers will proselytize and the "protesters" will plunder and the press will publish and push the perspective that pays best and all the participants in this play will sit on their porches and patios and promenades and at parties and five figure per plate dinners and they’ll pontificate and put down in their pompous pre-planned and posed performances to try to prove that all their posturing is not mere pretense, no, it's a pure expression of their most personal of pain and every single day, while more and more children are killed by other children and none of the above give one single God damn because those killings weren’t done from behind a police badge and it doesn't allow enough political exploitation, then we'll repeat this whole charade when it inevitably happens again.
And the whole thing makes you want to puke.
There Are Only Victims Here
When I say leadership in this town I include everyone. From the top to the bottom. From Mayor, to Police Chief, to Alderman, to State's Attorney, to those in charge of the aforementioned endless number of "non-profits" and "charities," the Preachers passing the offering plates, the business leaders, those in charge of the media institutions, the teachers in the classrooms, the former Chicagoans fleeing to other states, the parents in this city who are supposed to be the leaders of their own families, all the way down to the social media gobs and harpies, those dregs and bottom feeders of our modern society, who armchair quarterback and freeze frame and slow motion those literal fractions of one-second of decision making about what should have been done and what they most certainly would have done while sitting in the comfort of their living rooms eating lukewarm fast-food trash they paid extra to be delivered right to their fat feet after a few quick taps on the cells in their pockets.
There's one constant among them.
They're each and all ready, waiting, and eager to cry victim. Each and all ready, waiting, and eager to absolve themselves of any responsibility for any of their inaction and place the blame squarely on this...place. Each and all ready, waiting, and eager to offer up to any God who'll listen how much everyone else in this city needs to understand their victimhood and grandstand about all the work everyone else needs to do despite, quite literally, being the people in charge.
This used to be a tough town. This used to be a city of broad shoulders. This used to be a city that works. This city used to be untouchable.
Does it resemble that these days?
Everywhere one turns is another victim. Like the political and cultural equivalent of middle-aged housewives hyperventilating in an overplayed out meme from the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Victim. Victim. Victim.
There are only victims here. And they expect the children to stop killing each other when they have no one willing to stand up and behave like the adults they're supposed to be?
It's pathetic at its best and despicable at its worst. Though I don't hold my breath, someday, I hope all these wannabe victims are all ashamed.
When Does It Stop?
Adam Toledo was a 13 year old kid who, like so many others before him, was brought up in a violent and destructive city that he had nothing to do with building and where no one would possibly ask for the reality he was born into to be their reality if they had known any better ahead of time. Who knows and who cares if that was his first night out with the Latin Kings and Ruben Roman or if he had hung around long enough to already have the nickname, Li'l Diablo? That doesn't matter. He was 13.
If Adam Toledo would have been stopped by Officer Eric Stillman under different circumstances and realized the errors of his current path and put his mistakes behind him, who knows what Adam Toledo would have or could have become? Who knows what was running through Adam Toledo's head as he was running away from Officer Stillman that night? I prefer to imagine him as a scared kid. I prefer to imagine he may have even heard his mother's voice in his head, or a friend's, or anyone who he loved and trusted, a voice in his head that told him, "Adam, stop running. Adam, it's the police. Adam, drop the gun. Adam, listen."
Because Adam did.
Unfortunately, he chose to stop at a gap and ditch the gun behind a fence and turn in one motion for God knows why except that he was a 13 year old kid who didn't know what the hell he was doing. Unfortunately, he turned to face a good officer who did exactly as he was trained and who has just as much the right to want to go home that night as any of us.
Officer Eric Stillman is not the villain. Neither is Adam Toledo. The truth is they're the only two victims in this tale. The two characters whose fates crossed. The two ships in the night.
The villains, the actual villains, are the people like Ruben Roman and the gangs that continue to prey on young boys and recruit them to do their dirty work and continue the cycle on and on and on. And the villains are the corrupt and incompetent leadership in this town who continue to play the politics of these situations and continue to try and try and try to sell you the narrative that being born a certain skin color or economic status absolves you or your family of responsible behavior. The villains are those ugly, ugly people desperate to form a wedge between the police officers who maintain the law and order of their communities and desperate to form a wedge between neighbors by bank account, by sex, or by skin color. The villains are those who do it all for nothing more than political power.
And it will continue as long as you let it.
This city has a choice. It's always had a choice. This city can continue to be deliberately naive. It can continue to be obtuse. It can continue to lie to itself. It can continue to bury its head deep into the sand and pretend it can neither hear, nor see, nor speak about what it has allowed itself to become.
Until the leadership of this city chooses to say enough to the incompetence from those around them and demand better, until the leadership of this city chooses to say no more to the destruction of their communities, their property values, their reputations, and the livelihoods of themselves and everyone around them who has to put up with this insanity and place genuine consequences behind individual actions that do not strive for those common goals, and until the leadership of this city chooses to work toward policymaking that demands an iota of personal responsibility rather than worry about who's feelings will be hurt in the process or how it will affect their chances at reelection, no conversation about specifics of any reforms will ever be enough and these incidents will never stop and this town will continue to spiral out of control. Until this town chooses to stop the endless victimization of itself, the list of tragedies will continue to grow, endlessly, with more and more and more Adam Toledo's and more and more and more Officer Eric Stillman's to be held up and studied as statistics, laser-pointed at on the "non-profit" Powerpoint presentations, and glazed over on endless social media feeds the trolls sneer at on their toilets and between bites of take-out.
It will continue until this city chooses to take responsibility for itself. Until it chooses to have the courage and the discipline to forge its better future, live up to its potential, and be the Great American City that it once was and could be again.
This town could, of course, but it won't. Because there is no leadership here. There are only victims here.
See you at the next summer blockbuster. I'll bring the popcorn.
Notes & References
Camarillo, Emmanuel. “Boy, 17, Fatally Shot in Little Village.” Times. Chicago Sun-Times, April 26, 2021. https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/2021/4/26/22404050/boy-17-fatally-shot-little-village-drake-gun-violence. ↩︎
Wire, Sun-Times. “Teen Boy Shot in Little Village.” Times. Chicago Sun-Times, April 25, 2021. https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/2021/4/24/22401548/teen-boy-shot-little-village. ↩︎
Wire, Sun-Times. “17-Year-Old Girl Dies after Being Shot in the Head in Little Village.” Times. Chicago Sun-Times, April 16, 2021. https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/2021/4/15/22386891/lydia-jimenez-17-little-village-shooting-gun-violence. ↩︎
Desk, WGN Web. “Teen, 19, Fatally Shot in Little Village, Police Say.” WGN. WGN-TV, April 23, 2021. https://wgntv.com/news/chicagocrime/teen-19-fatally-shot-in-little-village-police/. ↩︎