What lured 13-year-old Adam Toledo to the streets in the dead of night?

Adam Toledo. It’s a name we shouldn’t know, but we do for the most tragic of reasons. The 13-year-old was fatally shot in an alley by a cop after a police chase. It took place in Little Village at 2:30 in the morning.

I’m not here to throw shade on the police or the officer who fired the shot. Nor am I here to place judgement on the family. I’ll leave those jobs to others, as they surely will. Besides, there are too many unanswered questions; too many things which aren’t clear.

But I do wonder: what would compel an adolescent boy, a 7th grader, to want to be out of his home in the dead of night, running the streets with a 21-year old man with a gun?

I think about my own experiences at 13, and I just can’t fathom my brother, my sister or I in the same situation.

When I was 13, I lived in a first floor apartment at 7723 South Essex in the heart of South Shore with a mother who didn’t much care for my father, and a father who worked hard but wasn’t around much. It was the early 1960s.

I wasn’t the happiest of kids nor was I very confident, and I certainly wasn’t the most popular.

I was a bit immature, still jumping rope and playing with yoyos while others my age were playing spin the bottle and smoking cigarettes.

My best friend Betty and I were constant companions. We were fellow oddballs, misfits, square pegs in a round hole world.

Betty and I mostly, hung out in her partially finished basement, where we belted out songs from Broadway musicals, each other the only audience.

We listened to the soundtracks of “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Flower Drum Song,” “South Pacific,” “My Fair Lady”, “Sound of Music” and “Gypsy” over and over again. We knew all the words by heart. I still do.

We dreamed of being movie stars.

I’m not saying we were angels. We weren’t. We acted out. We egged the window of a tailor shop on 79th Street because the owner once yelled at us. Betty stole a package of balloons from Woolworth’s. I served as lookout.

Later, we filled the balloons with water and threw them out the window of my apartment at passerbyers.

We pulled dumb pranks such as leaving pennies in a glass of water at Cunis Candies and Ice Cream for the owner to fish out. And we laughed till our sides ached, making phony phone calls to teachers, strangers and boys we liked (an activity which has gone by the wayside. Just about everyone now has a phone which announces who is on the other end).

I know my situation is totally different than Adam’s. It was a different period of time. Different environment. And I was a young girl, not a boy, growing up in the city.

But I think it would serve us well to know what lured Adam Toledo to the streets, to the literal dark side. Did everyone and every system fail him? Unless we figure it out and make necessary changes, I fear there will be more Adam Toledos, who’ll leave their family members in anguish and the rest of us sad, sick, angry and perplexed.




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  • I'm afraid you cannot look at Adam Toledo's short, violent life without examining his family situation. Beyond that, we live in a city that not only tolerates gang activity but normalizes it. This is not West Side Story stuff, but kids and young men perpetrating violent acts daily with no punishment -- except death, which almost always comes at the hands of other gang members, not cops. No fathers, a distracted or uncaring mother, the need for "protection" all drive young boys and girls into the hands of older thugs. So all the institutions that failed Toledo will not suffer any consequences. The mother will be a victim, society will cluck and tusk-tusk and want to throw more money at the problems from the government, church leaders will pontificate but do nothing but bloviate, politicians will blame the cops, white liberals will hand-wring about the failings in far-off neighborhoods, and, in the end, nothing will change because the core issue will not be addressed, the core issue of failure of personal responsibility and the excusing of it by all those who eventually benefit from the influx of cash to "fix" the problem.

  • It wasn't a different time. At that time, there might not have been gang banging in South Shore, but there was in adjoining Woodlawn. There has been and still is gang banging in La Villita. Adam's companion was shooting up the neighborhood near Farragut HS. Only briefly reported is that a teenage girl was shot and killed exactly one mile to the west. Again "not an intended target" and "nobody in custody."

    I'm not going to endorse the preceding right wing opinion, but the family should be responsible for a 13 year old out at 2:30 a.m. Whatever happened to announcements that curfew was at 10:30?

    Also, IMO, the companion should be charged with felony murder.

  • In reply to jack:

    That's a good point, Jack. I remember growing up in the suburbs hearing deep broadcast voices saying "It's 10:30. Do you know where your children are?" I haven't heard those in a long time -- but I would hear them at night, then go to a safe school in the morning. Judy makes a number of good points, but what I identify with most is not being very confident, staying home with music and the occasional friend... certainly not even being awake at 2:30 a.m.

  • I worked in Gangs for the better part of 33 years in Chicago, When I started the Blackstone Rangers and Jeff Fort and Eugene (BULL)Hairston was just beginning to flex at 63rd and Blackstone. The Bull was later assassinated in 1988 on orders from Fort who went on to found The EL Rukins. From there King Hoover started the disciples and went west. I knew them as Jeff and Larry- and Bull-I cannot tell you how bad things were in those days, bad schools, poverty, unemployment, no chance for hundreds of teens. The gangs lured them with Intimidation, attention, and a chance to make some cash hustling drugs and stealing cars--They became the Black Mafi in just 2 years with Jeff Fort, (now Prince Malik), and Larry (King) Hoover now occupy the same prison to this day in Colorado and thousands of their Disciples killed or got so old they died and drifted away, but the gangs did not.Fort and Hoover at the time themselves were only 17 but Charismatic enough to start the horrible never ending nightmare we are still seeing-When I started with the Stones in the 60s I had them,in the middle of my career I had thier kids,at the end of my Career I had the grand kids. The cycle never broke and is going strong today--any of you out there wants to write more about it and I will gladley tell you the stories and history

  • In reply to BOB ANGONE:

    That's exactly about what I was thinking. When I got off the South Shore at 57th St. the first thing I saw was Blackstone St. and wondered WTH I got into, even though the gang action was a mile south. The Woodlawn and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods burned after that.

    The Hispanic gangs haven't been as well documented.

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