CAPTION: This video is from officer Eric Stillman's body cam as he approaches, shoots and attempts to resuscitate unsuccessfully 13 year old Adam Toledo. (video: Stillman body cam.)
Adam Toledo, 13 years old, and Ruben Roman, 21 years old, were up to no good early on the morning of March 29th in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. Ruben was in possession of a gun from which he fired 8 shots. Why Roman fired is not yet clear. As police approached, Ruben and Adam fled and separated, Adam now in possession of the handgun.
A white Chicago police officer now identified as 34-year-old Eric Stillman pursued Adam. Stillman, an armed forces veteran, believed he was chasing an armed suspect. Alone he ran without hesitation or caution directly at what he now says he viewed as a threat. The stage was set for tragedy.
Adam wasn't a hardened criminal, he was a child. He did a kid thing -- he tossed the gun handed to him by Ruben Roman behind a fence as Stillman closed in, shouting, "Show me your f*cking hands, drop it," simultaneously firing a bullet into Adam's chest, his hands now raised and empty.
Stillman began CPR and immediately summoned medical assistance. It's the American way of bullets and bandaids. It didn't work. The image of Adam with his empty hands raised as the bullet that would end his life approaches is the portrait of non-white youth in America.
Police departments are like armed forces veterans, especially those with combat experience. Hiring veterans is a priority for many American businesses. It's seen as supporting the men and women who have served the country. But for police departments, there's a special connection, a sense of being on the same team with the same mission.
The War Here
Before becoming known for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press, Daniel Ellsberg had been a Marine Corps rifleman serving in Vietnam. Years later, he would recall the moment when he came to understand who the enemy was. He was on patrol with his unit when a 10-year-old barefoot boy in cutoff shorts jumped up from a rice paddy with an AK-47 and began firing on them.
It wasn't the enemy they had trained for, but in bringing the war to a civilian population, it was the enemy they should have expected. It was the inevitable enemy.
The psychology of war and the mindset that they are fighting a war is becoming increasingly common among American police departments. It's the war on drugs, on gang violence, on the war against the American way of life, and the war that cannot be defined, because that's the nature of forever war, no longer over there but now, here.
Eric Stillman has a pretty good record as a cop. It isn't spotless, but by the notoriously confrontational and violent standards of the Chicago Police Department, his record is comparatively tame. Within the rules of engagement in the war on crime in Chicago, he pursued Adam like an enemy combatant and killed him like one.
Only after doing so, only after it was too late did Eric realize Adam was a child victim of war, a child he was sworn to protect and serve.
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