Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s failure to speak up

There’s no getting around Johnson’s silence in that room on that day in 2015. We wish he had spoken up. But true reform is what matters most.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times file photo

At a meeting of the Chicago Police Department’s top cops on Nov. 1, 2015, a video was played showing an officer firing 16 bullets into the body of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald.

“Everyone in the meeting agreed the shooting was justified,” according to a report, released Wednesday, by the city’s inspector general, Joe Ferguson.

Nobody saw, or dared to say, the honest truth: The shooting was an outrage.

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Among those in the room that day was Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, who at the time was a deputy chief. Johnson was among those, if Ferguson’s report is accurate, who saw no evil. Or, if he did, he kept it to himself.

For 3 12 years now, Johnson has been a strong police superintendent. He has led efforts to reform the practices and culture of the police department in the wake of the McDonald shooting, and during his tenure the city has seen a steady decline in violent crime.

There’s a good case to be made, as we did in an editorial in April, that Mayor Lori Lightfoot should permanently retain Johnson, who was appointed superintendent by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But there’s no getting around Johnson’s silence in that room on that day in 2015. It would have been better had he spoken up, as a number of African American aldermen said on Thursday, and the mayor will have to weigh the damage done.

As. Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) told Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times: “This is another way that our communities feel like we can’t trust the people who are supposed to protect us.”

At a press conference on Saturday, Johnson said it would have been “improper” for him to comment without being “privy to the full scope of information available,” But we have also seen the videotape, as has much of Chicago — and there is nothing ambiguous.

Johnson also said that he “never thought” and “never said” the shooting was “justified.” And that is to his credit. It is no small point. Too many cops of lesser judgment or circumspection did just that.

The mayor apparently has made up her mind about this one. In a statement on Saturday, she said Johnson has her “full faith and confidence.” She called him “a champion for real, lasting police reform in Chicago.”

True reform is what matters most. And Johnson’s professionalism, fair-minded people should be able to agree, should not be reduced to what he didn’t say at one meeting in November 2015.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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