Chicago Tribune Condemned For Op-Ed On Adam Toledo, 13, Being Shot Dead By Police

The Chicago Tribune has been criticized for publishing an opinion piece which suggests that the facts need to come out about the police shooting of a 13-year-old boy before attempting to portray him as a "martyr."

Adam Toledo was shot and killed by a Chicago Police officer in the early hours of March 29 after being chased into an alley. According to a police statement, the department's ShotSpotter technology detected multiple shots being fired in the 2300 block of S. Sawyer at around 2:36 a.m.

When officers arrived at the scene, they found Adam with another male. Police said one of the males was armed and fled before being shot in the chest during an "armed confrontation." The incident was captured on body cam footage, according to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, but the footage hasn't been made public.

On April 6, an opinion piece by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn described how it is "too early to say with confidence" what happened on the night of the shooting and that too much focus has been on Adam's age.

Zorn noted how during the outcry in the wake of the shooting that social media users described the boy as "a baby" while a Black Lives Matter Twitter account tweeted that "there is absolutely no ... justification for murdering our children."

In retort, Zorn said that while the facts still need to be gathered for the investigation, it is too early to "stop romanticizing and infantilizing" 13-year-olds.

Zorn then lists examples of other teenagers who have been charged with murder over the past several months as proof that "13-year-olds aren't inherently angelic."

"What do these news stories say about Adam Toledo? Nothing. They simply suggest that using his age as shorthand for innocence and harmlessness in this situation generates heat but sheds no light," Zorn wrote.

"He was not a 'baby.' A 13-year-old pointing a gun, if that's what he did, is as dangerous as a 23 or 33-year-old, maybe even more dangerous given what we know about the lack of judgment."

Zorn goes on to state that no matter what actually occurred that night, the city of Chicago still should provide better support for young, disadvantaged people.

In response to criticism on social media, Zorn told Newsweek: "Aside from the profane and threatening insults on Twitter, few of which even bother to make a point, I've received a number of thoughtful letters of disagreement arguing that I minimized the inherent, fundamental tragedy of the violent death of a 13-year-old, no matter the circumstances, and gave too much deference to the idea that the police might have been justified in shooting him.

"As time has permitted I've responded to these notes to try to clarify our points of disagreement and to underscore my belief that it's urgent to continue to demand answers from the police but important not to jump to conclusions before more facts are in.

"It's impossible to have anything like productive dialogue in the performative, rock-throwing environment of Twitter. I value the medium for many things, but it's a lousy forum for debate."

Zorn added the column was not an attempt to "justify" the shooting or to "reflexively decry" it, but instead to "analyze the situation and seek truth and clarity; to shed light rather than generate heat."

The article was heavily criticized online, with social media users pointing out how people only attempt to justify police shooting children when the victim is a minority.

We’re back to the superpredator rhetoric, I see.

— Cordova (@GNCordova) April 7, 2021

"actually, murdering 13-year-olds is okay sometimes"

— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) April 7, 2021

As a Black journalist, I've heard horrendous things about the culture of the Chicago Tribune. This column managed to anecdotally capture everything terrible thing I've ever heard about what it's like to be a person of color in that newsroom.

— erin b. logan (@erinblogan) April 8, 2021

child murder: is it good? by this guy

— Talia Lavin (@chick_in_kiev) April 8, 2021

Journalism professor Dr. Steven W. Thrasher said he will be canceling his subscription to the Tribune over the article.

"Yes, I do think there is no space in a newspaper for arguing for the murder of a child, and that it's 'never to early" to think they are worthy of murder," he tweeted.

Comedian and actor David Cross added: "Please list all the 13 year olds who've murdered people thereby justifying killing any 13 year olds because 13 year olds aren't inherently harmless please thank you."

The Twitter account for socialist media outlet Left Voice wrote: "The Chicago Tribune is encouraging cops to kill 13 year olds. After all, as they put it 'It's never too early to stop pretending that 13-year-olds are inherently harmless.' And by 13 year olds, they don't mean white kids. They mean Black and Brown middle schoolers."

Reporter Noah Berlatsky tweeted: "I am willing to just blanket state that there are no circumstances in which it is okay for police to murder a 13-year old.

"Also, it's only 'too early' to know what happened because the corrupt, murderous conspiracy that is the police department won't release the f*****g video."

The officer involved in the shooting, who has not been named, was placed on desk duty for 30 days while the COPA investigates the incident.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was one of those calling for the body cam footage of the shooting to be made public.

"As a mother of a 13-year-old myself, I can only imagine the incredible pain this boy's parents are experiencing at this moment. My heart goes out to them," she tweeted.

"While the investigation is ongoing it is critically important that COPA release relevant videos first to the family, and then to the public, as quickly as possible, with appropriate protections, given his age.

"Because his family and the public will undoubtedly have many questions, we must release any relevant videos as soon as possible. Recognizing that these are the most complex cases that COPA investigates, transparency and speed are crucial."

Update 4/8/21, 9:50 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with further comment from Eric Zorn.

Correction: 4/8/21, 10:10 a.m. ET: This article was updated to remove a reference to Adam Toledo's race.

Tribune Tower, at night in Chicago, Illinois on March 28, 2013. The Chicago Tribune has been criticized for publishing an opinion piece about the police shooting of a 13-year-old boy. Getty Images