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40 years later, they still remember Chicago cop lost to sniper's bullet

Much of what Carolyn Cali-Brick knows about her father comes from faded memorabilia and the brittle, yellowed pages of newspaper clippings.

Once every 10 years, that picture expands when the “brotherhood” gathers, as it did Tuesday in a Park Ridge church — men with silver or thinning hair, bum knees, and shuffling gaits — to remember Chicago Police Officer Joseph P. Cali.

“We’re often the ones who receive the brunt of the protesters and the violence, and people seem to forget that police officers are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children,” said retired Chicago policeman Walter Dudycz, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Cali’s death from a sniper’s bullet. “And this is just a reminder that we are part of the community.”

Joseph Cali was killed in the line of duty in May 1975. | Sun-Times Library

Cali’s life ended not in a shootout, but while leaning over a car to write a parking ticket in the 2100 block of West Lake Street on May 19, 1975. James Clark, a teenager, took aim with a .22-caliber rifle and hit Cali, 31, in the right side of the head. Investigators later learned that Clark had bragged about wanting to kill a “pig.” A mortally wounded Cali was taken to the old Cook County Hospital. He never regained consciousness.

He left behind a wife and two young daughters — Cali-Brick, a few days shy of her second birthday when her father died, and Jennifer, just a couple of years older, who also attended Tuesday’s service.

Dudycz drove a dying Cali to the hospital.

“I’m 65 years old, I’m a Vietnam veteran,” he said — but, he added, that was “still the worst day of my life.”

The 40-year-old scenes of sorrow at the hospital have not faded either.

“To be in the hospital and to watch fellow officers come up there to [see Cali] and walk away crying — it was very traumatic to everybody,” Dudycz said.

Tuesday’s service at Mary, Seat of Wisdom church was short. There were no lengthy tributes. A dozen or so members of Cali’s family came. Cali’s widow wasn’t there. She wasn’t feeling well, friends said. Active and retired policemen showed up. There was plenty of room to stretch out. Tears welled as a lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace.

For Cali-Brick, who now lives in Arlington Heights, it was enough that people made the effort to come — decades after she lost her dad.

“My dad was the kind of guy who didn’t just tell kids to get off the street,” said Cali-Brick. “He’d give them money to go to the arcade so they had somewhere to go.”

Cali-Brick said the Chicago Police Department has been nothing but kind to her family through the years.

“If I was too depressed to get milk, someone from the police department would come and get me milk,” she said, pressing her 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, close to her.

There was little talk Tuesday about Clark, who police say was paroled in 1986.

“I hope he feels remorse,” said Cali-Brick. “I hope he’s repented. He was a child when he did this. People change and who knows.”

Dudycz was less forgiving.

“I know that he is a convicted murderer and that is something he’s going to take with him to his creator,” he said.

Joseph Cali’s funeral service. | Sun-Times Library