clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

EXCLUSIVE: Eddie Johnson on marching with protesters — ‘We are all accountable’

Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson march among anti-violence protesters July 9 on the Dan Ryan Expressway. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Sneed exclusive . . .

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is a man with a broken heart.

“There was no reason for us to see what we saw,” said top cop Johnson, describing last weekend’s bloody carnage resulting in 71 people shot, 12 of them fatally.

“It broke my heart. We are better than that,” he said.

“The bottom line is we are all accountable for what is happening — and this doesn’t have to happen! We have got to step up. All of us!”

In a quietly emotional telephone interview following in the wake of the city’s bloodiest weekend this year, Johnson talked about his personal battle with violence and the day he marched arm-in-arm with the Rev. Michael Pfleger alongside thousands of anti-violence protesters pouring onto the inbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway a month ago.


“I suppose you could say it was like an epiphany,” Johnson explained.

“There was conflict within me doing that . . . and only for a second did I wonder about my job. . . . but here’s what won the day,” he said. “I wondered what my mom and dad would want me to do. What the man in me would have done. And the police side of me.

“I wasn’t intending to be a part of the march. But all of these parts added up to this answer: to be against violence in the neighborhood.


Pfleger’s Dan Ryan shutdown protest march not just a message to politicians

Tally to taxpayers for Dan Ryan shutdown reaches $323,000 — and still climbing

NEIL STEINBERG: The first 100 questions about Rev. Pfleger’s Dan Ryan protest

“We all have to be in it together to save lives!

“We all need to stand for that . . . whether it’s creating jobs, or good schools, or whatever it takes to keep people safe, we all need to be a part of the solution. We need to change the way we do business . . . and DO business. We are better than what’s happening now! We are all accountable.

“I remember watching Rev. Jesse Jackson’s face when I joined the march. It was something to see.

“And we can’t ignore the elephant in the room: the fact many people in the black community don’t trust the police, their fear of retribution from gang-bangers for cooperating in investigations, or fear the detectives won’t do their jobs if they do cooperate,” he said.

“We know we’ve all got to work on and repair these relationships and develop trust in being able to keep people safe if they decide to testify in court.

Johnson, who grew up in the Cabrini-Green housing projects on the North Side, remembered the day his father took matters into his own hands when he saw one of his two young sons “being burned by a flare on the leg just for kicks by Johnny Veal, who later murdered two police officers in the 1970s.

“I was seven and my brother was nine and we were playing on the swings in the playground when it happened,” said Johnson.

“My dad was watching us from a window and he came down and handled it. As I look back on it he seemed to be fearless even when confronted by gang members. He stepped up. He took responsibility.

“That’s how I feel about this city. Protective. Responsible. But we all have to feel that way. . . .”

“Look. I am a flawed individual,” said Johnson. “So I’m not pointing fingers. But we have to do a better job at home, parenting our kids. It’s true it takes a village to help out, but somewhere along the line we forgot morals and values and character are learned at home. That finger can also be turned on ourselves.”

Johnson is also encouraged by the time he spends in the community building relationships.

“They give me encouragement to stay in the fight. A few days ago, a guy was getting out of lock-up carrying arrest papers under his arm and he said: ‘Let me tell you, I’m a black man who was trained by my mother to live right, but I’ve made some mistakes. I know I have to hold myself accountable to do right for my kids. I’m listening. I’m trying. You keep trying. ‘ ”

Added Johnson: “That meant a lot to me.”

Sneedlings . . .

I spy: Songwriter Rex Orange County (aka Alexander O’Connor) dining at RPM Italian over Lollapalooza weekend. Ditto for Chicago native/rapper Valee and Rebelution’s Wes Finley.

Today’s birthdays: Anna Kendrick, 33; Michael Kors, 59; and Deion Sanders, 51.