An Apology is Owed in Chicago
On June 11, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a news conference with new Chief of Police David Brown. She was livid. She announced that she had been contacted by the office of Congressman Bobby Rush and presented with videos recorded on a night of rioting following anti-police protests at the end of May over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The videos revealed thirteen policemen in Rush’s office, two dozing, others making coffee and preparing popcorn. Bobby Rush, indignant and upset, spoke as well. He castigated the officers for their having had “unmitigated gall” to make themselves coffee and popcorn, “my popcorn in my microwave.”
The mayor accused these police officers of lounging in Rush’s office as their colleagues were being pelted with rocks while trying to prevent vandalism and looting. She demanded that the unidentified officers come forward for reprimand. She lamented that such police behavior confirms the impression that officers didn’t care about looting on the lower-income South Side, but only about the more affluent or high-profile locations. Lightfoot was sincere and emotional. She truly believed that the officers had done wrong.
The police chief stated his embarrassment and dismay over the incident. He asked, “If you sleep during a riot, what do you do on a regular shift when there is no riot?”
Immediately, John Catanzara, Jr., the president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the city’s largest police union, defended the officers. He urged that the public not rush to judgment. He insisted that the officers were invited to the office by Rush staff members, asked to protect the office from further looting after the waves of rioting and theft had dissipated, and were told to “make yourselves at home.” The FOP accused the mayor of “attempting to throw a tank of gasoline on an already smoldering fire.”
As for the timing of events, Congressman Rush would only say that the images are from after midnight. From my TV screen, they looked like they were recorded at daybreak, around 5:00 or 6:00 A.M. That would seem to confirm the FOP claim that the officers gathered hours after the rioting. But were they invited?
Rep. Rush denied that any of his staff members summoned the officers. His director of communications made a statement to that effect. According to an article in Politico, Rush responded angrily that that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is the “number-one cause that prevents police accountability,” and that the FOP and the Ku Klux Klan are “like kissing, hugging and law-breaking cousins.” While this rhetoric is at least as disturbing as the incident itself, Rush did add a piece of information that may be of significance. He said that the officers left behind a one-dollar bill on his desk, as if to reimburse him in a disrespectful way for the use of the refreshments. What was that all about?
Rep. Bobby Rush
Photo credit: cropped from a picture by Daniel X. O'Neil CCA 2.0 License
The last time that these events have been discussed by the mayor, police chief and the Rush office was the middle of June. Three months have passed without a word of follow-up.
But many questions remain from that June press conference, at least in my mind. Why did it take two weeks for Bobby Rush’s office to turn in the surveillance video? Rush shared that he had lost a sibling during that time, and we certainly felt for him. But wasn’t there someone managing the office? Wasn’t there a desire to identify the looters in the aftermath of significant vandalism and theft, both in Rush’s office and around it? Weren’t the videos essential for investigation of the devastation of area business?
The surveillance videos were from the first rioting between May 30 and June 2. And the press conference on June 11 was followed by a second wave of looting from August 9 to August 11.
Why has there been no official determination, or at least one shared with the public, of the time that the officers were in the office? If it was after the general looting occurred, are they not owed an apology for being accused of cowering there while stones were thrown at other officers?
Close to the time of the incident, there was word from Rush’s office that the alarm service notified the police, but not the office. Is there any phone evidence or official notation of another call made to the police, of an invitation? Is there any testimony that a call was made? If not, why has this not been shared with the public?
And even if the Police Department had been called to the scene, was it a good use of thirteen personnel members to deploy them for hours to one office? Wouldn’t it have been better just to send most of them home to rest? Were they all paid overtime for this assignment? Did they leave the dollar as token thanks -- so token that no “reimbursement” would have looked better -- for the overtime?
Following the Lightfoot and Rush press conference on June 11, the Chicago Sun Times editorial board urged, on June 17:
"What we need is not a rush to judgment, but a full and prompt compilation of all the facts. “If…[the police] were there doing their jobs, the fact that they made themselves coffee and popcorn would not be a major issue. All this could easily be established by examining police calls, interviews, reports, timelines and other data…. A full and prompt investigation will tell us whether the officers conducted themselves reasonably, following some kind of order, or were hiding from their jobs.”
But it has been almost three months and the Sun-Times has not offered any follow-up to the press conference, except to note that that event brought Lightfoot and Rush together after they had been feuding.
Does one editorial exempt a newspaper from investigative reporting? Why have reporters from all media not been pounding the pavement to get answers?
Bobby Rush’s office has yet to make a final statement on those events, except for Rush’s inflammatory comparison of the Chicago Police with the KKK and his remark that the FOP is “the most rabid, racist body of criminal lawlessness” by police in the United States.
Lightfoot’s airing of Rush’s grievance was, to him, the ultimate conciliatory act because he had long accused her of “representing” the Fraternal Order of Police. He therefore praised Lightfoot for her attack on the officers and on the FOP.
As of this writing, Mayor Lightfoot’s office, like Rush’s, has yet to offer any follow-up. There was another round of angry exchanges between Lightfoot and Catanzara following protests in downtown Chicago that turned violent when a mob trying to pull down a Christopher Columbus statue threw frozen cans and bottles at police and then accused the police of excessive force. Lightfoot condemned the violence by a “portion of the protesters” together with the police response as brought to her in “reports.”
When Catanzara accused her of inaccurately condemning the police, she texted him that he was “officially a clown,” calling him that three times and dismissing him as a “total fraud.” She then defiantly told the news media that she wrote her texts hoping that Catanzara would share them with the public. For his part, Catanzara texted Lightfoot that “99.9% of the department has zero respect for you, what you say, what you stand for and even less confidence you give a rat’s a** for their well-being.”
Catanzara has made his Republican loyalties known while Lightfoot, a staunch liberal Democrat, has courageously broken ranks with other mayors and governors in her party by condemning violence and looting and vowing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice no matter how many months pass before they are found. She has been most supportive of Police Chief Brown.
Lightfoot prudently removed and safely stored the Columbus statue in order to avert violence at what had become a flashpoint, and wisely lifted the bridges over the Chicago River and curtailed public transportation so that looters could not converge further upon the city. Of course, she was under tremendous pressure to do so after two devastating, business-destroying rampages through parts of the city, including the pricey downtown, after which many taxpayers threatened to leave, thus crippling the tax base. Lightfoot finally agreed to accept the help of Federal agents and officers to solve gang shootings in the city, but stopped short of utilizing Federal help against rioting.
So far, Lightfoot has responded to the “defunding police” movement with common sense. She understands that a large and crime-challenged city requires a strong police force, though in interviews she focuses more on how defunding the police would lead immediately to the elimination of black and brown officers, the newest with the least seniority, thus decimating further middle-class incomes in minority communities. But in a New York Times interview where she makes some good points, she could not refrain from attacking the FOP as “idiots” who are “trying to spread a defense” that Bobby Rush invited the cops into his office.
Again, what happened that night? The Chicago public deserves a report. Even more, the Chicago public deserves a process by which evidence can be presented, the episode can be closed and an apology tendered by the party who had the facts wrong, with a pledge to work together. That would be a fine example for the entire nation.
For three months now, I have been wondering about how or whether this will be resolved. But particularly now, in the ancient Hebrew month of Ellul, the month of reconciliation before the High Holy Days, a period of repentance and forgiveness, I cannot shake my sense of the urgency of this matter, which all parties, including (shamefully) the press, have been delaying.