Little Village youth

I Don’t Need a Video; I Want to Hear From Our Young People

Last week, I attended a city meeting about Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old from La Villita, my neighborhood, who was killed by a police officer.  Not one person from the city spoke Spanish, there was no translation provided, and there was no Spanish session offered. The content of that meeting? Well, there was no content, plain and simple. No answers. 

Even a simple question like “What additional resources is Gary Elementary receiving after the killing of Adam?” was met with, “We don’t know, we will get back to you.”

Today I watched the City of Chicago press conference and there were some good points and some points that I find difficult to understand. There were English and Spanish speakers and respected civic leaders. There were calls for peace from the community, from La Villita, from Chicago but I didn’t hear one call for peace from the police department. 

When speaking to solutions, I heard about existing services (they are so important) and “reform.” I didn’t hear firm commitments about divestment from police budgets to investments to our schools, mental health clinics, youth employment etc. I didn’t hear about ending state violence against Black and Brown Chicagoans.

I’ve Lost Count of How My Times I’ve Put Myself in Front of a Cop

I have never thought of myself and my family as protected from any form of violence. In fact, at an early age I learned that state-sanctioned violence would be repeated and on-going. 

In my pre-teens I learned that my male siblings would be targeted at school and outside of schools and that even inside our home, they were not shielded from police. I remember being 10 years old, opening the back porch door and finding a police officer looking through our stuff.

When I questioned why he was there, he said, “Your brothers are up to no good.” I asked if he had a warrant and pretended to call for my mom. He left, luckily. My mom and my stepfather were actually at work and I was caring for my disabled 6-year-old sister and my 3-year-old brother. Years later, my younger siblings would share that they learned courage through encounters like that, where I became big and spoke with mighty power. 

I’ve lost count how many times, I put myself in front of a cop defending a sibling or neighbor. How many times I visited the local police district, the police station inside of Farragut High School, Cook County jail to bail or visit someone. Not because my siblings or friends were good or bad, that is not relevant, because I knew that no matter what the facts were, I was more likely to get out of a situation alive or without charges (not sure if that is really true actually, I thought it was true at the time). 

I started carrying a pocket size Constitution when I was 13. In high school I took pre-law classes for three years. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but what I really wanted to do was protect my loved ones, my community. I learned how to organize, not because of some romanticized notion of organizing or because I wanted to go into Chicago’s inner city and “help.” I was the Chicago inner city youth that they came to “save.” Except that I knew that we keep each other safe. 

I know we keep us safe.

Media and Officials Still See Us as Dispensable

Adam Toledo attended Gary Elementary, the school my husband attended. He was killed in the alley of Farragut Career Academy, the school my husband and I graduated from. If you visit that alley you will see how ugly, damaged, and uneven the track and field and their surroundings are.  

That is not because people do not care. Many organizations and individuals–including myself–have tried at different points to apply for grants and appeal to different Chicago Public Schools and city officials for resources to re-do key aspects of the school. That alley is also shared with a church, Amor de Dios, that runs a food pantry every week. Its leadership and members have been active in many campaigns at the state level for more resources for Little Village. 

I can make a long list of all the work that people have done over the years to “improve the community” or provide more opportunities to youth and families. All these efforts are appreciated and valuable. Yet, they don’t address the fact that our community is seen as dispensable. 

Our young people are seen as thugs, our mothers as defective, our girls as promiscuous, our fathers as cheap labor. Collectively, we are seen as people who don’t know their rights. Some of us have internalized those messages that come from the media and from our government officials. That is always hard to watch and read. It’s been even harder these last weeks.

Young People, Tell Us What You Need

In case someone needs to hear it from me:

We are poisoned, imprisoned, killed – suddenly at times, slowly at other times. Whichever way it happens, we are not safe from state violence.

When our mayor uses federal stimulus money for police budgets and proposes to use more to pay off city debts while hundreds of Little Village residents don’t have food and housing secured–that is state violence. 

State violence is continuous environmental poisoning, community members yelling for help and demanding accountability, and the city and state permitting Hilco’s construction, giving the corporation tax breaks and even approving additional space for the company that it didn’t originally apply for – that’s state violence. 

Police violence is state violence.  Standardized tests that continue to tell our Black and Brown children that they are not smart are violence.  Schools not resourced with art and music, science, and a librarian- that is violence. 

Adam’s death is the latest injustice that embodies state violence. He was a 13-year-old boy. 

I am not interested in seeing a video. I don’t need to see a video. I am interested in hearing from more young people.

Young people- Tell us what you need from us. Thank you, young people, for your outrage. Thank you for understanding that grants and “relationships” with the city will not save you. They won’t save us. 

To end this short essay, I will borrow a line from a young woman in Little Village who asked for the mic and spoke from the heart at the Noise for Adam Toledo rally on April 5, 2021:

“…We have no justice in the ville, we in the ville, they think we all ghetto…… even if I am ghetto, so what, doesn’t give you the right to shoot me…. doesn’t give you the right to shoot me.” 

Rest in peace, Adam Toledo.

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Fanny Diego Alvarez

Fanny Diego Alvarez is a lifelong resident of Little Village, and mother to a son.

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