Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Tuesday that two uniformed Chicago Police officers photographed “taking a knee” in a police station lobby were caught between principles “in conflict”: the need to build community relations and the ban on making political statements while in uniform.
But Emanuel said he supports the Chicago Police Department’s decision to reprimand the two officers.
“There’s a difference between an athlete wearing their uniform [and kneeling during the national anthem] and a police officer who is paid by the public who’s wearing theirs. And the Police Department has been consistent,” in enforcing the ban on making political statements, he said.
After a weekend of sideline demonstrations that swept through the NFL and exposed the nation’s bitter racial divide, the two uniformed African-American officers were photographed “taking a knee” in the lobby of a South Side police station.
The officers are seen kneeling beside a woman whose head is bowed. While the woman’s face is not clearly visible, the photo was posted Sunday on the Instagram account of Englewood community activist Aleta Clark, who is best known for selling T-shirts with the slogan “Hugs No Slugs.”
Clark posted several photos of herself striking a kneeling pose at several locations with children and neighborhood residents.
The photo shows the woman kneeling between the two officers, all three with their fists raised, beside the caption: “That Moment when you walk into the police station and ask the Men of Color are they Against Police Brutality and Racism & they say Yes… then you ask them if they support Colin Kapernick [sic] … and they also say yes… then you ask them to Kneel!”
On Tuesday, Emanuel acknowledged that Clark had placed the officers in a difficult position at a time when the Chicago Police Department is trying desperately to rebuild public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
“You want that kind of dialogue and trust…They were somewhat betwixt and between two different aspirations. One, there’s a policy for the Police Department. The other one there’s a goal of building better community relations,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said he supports the decision to reprimand the two officers to reinforce, what he called a “culture of consistency” in the Chicago Police Department.
But he made it clear that he is neither angry at the officers nor interested in coming down hard on them. In fact, he looked at the bright side of the incident.
“You have a community activist who felt comfortable enough to walk into a [station]….She didn’t walk in confrontational…She actually felt comfortable enough and knowledgeable enough…that she could do that…We’re making progress on building ties of relationship, trust and working together,” the mayor said.
“We encourage community policing in all its aspects of that trust. We also have a principle about not, in any way, showing favoritism of political view. So I’m not gonna second-guess on that. You have two very important principles that, here in this particular place, are in conflict.”
Emanuel also sounded off on President Donald Trump and the political firestorm he touched off by urging the close-knit fraternity of NFL owners to fire those players who dare to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in America.
Not only did Trump fall short—again—in the president’s all-important role of being a “unifier” and a “voice of tolerance,” the mayor said.
Emanuel argued that Trump’s “divisive” broadside was a “cynical ploy” and a smokescreen to “distract people from some real large failures.”
“We’re not talking about the idea that less people under the [GOP] plan would have health care. We’re not talking about how we may be stumbling into a confrontation with North Korea. And we’re not talking about the woefully inadequate response to [hurricane relief in] Puerto Rico. It’s a crisis,” Emanuel said.