Thirteen Chicago Police officers — including three supervisors — slept on a couch, popped popcorn and drank coffee in U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s South Side campaign office while looters had a field day in the same strip mall earlier this month, the congressman and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday.
An outraged and emotional Lightfoot, her voice breaking at times, joined Rush at a City Hall news conference, apologizing to her former political nemesis for the “unspeakable indignity” and vowed to hunt down the officers responsible.
“Let me lead by apologizing to you again on behalf of our city that you and your office were treated with such profound disrespect. That’s a personal embarrassment to me. And I’m sorry that you and your staff had to deal with this incredible indignity,” the mayor told Rush.
Lightfoot said the officers’ “deplorable failure to do their jobs” will only underscore the widespread perception that police officers “don’t care when black and brown communities are looted and burned.”
“You’re not serving and protecting when you make movie popcorn and put up your feet while your fellow officers are getting the hell beat out of them just a few doors away,” Lightfoot said.
But later Thursday, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara accused Lightfoot of staging a trumped-up, “Hollywood production” to push a political agenda that includes licensing of all police officers in Illinois.
“They make it sound like the police went there and were looting the office, stealing crap, putting graffiti on the wall. I mean — it was absolutely ridiculous what she was trying to spin this into,” Catanzara told the Sun-Times.
Instead, he insisted Rush’s own staff had told police to “make themselves at home” and protect the office.
“She has an agenda. She has motives . . . the riots are over. The protests are pretty much over for now, which means the anti-police rhetoric has pretty much died down for the most part. That just doesn’t work for her. She needs a roaring fire, not just a whimpering ember, to get licensing pushed in Springfield and passed because she knows that would be a back door to our contract to get rid of officers they want to get rid of on a whim.”
The mayor said “tentative identifications” have been made for some of the officers involved and police are working to pinpoint the others, using the video provided by Rush.
It’s not a simple process because the officers were drawn from across the city by the rampant looting and mayhem that happened on Sunday, May 31. The video picks up at 1 a.m. on Monday, June 1, the mayor said.
Officers were on the scene for “four or five hours,” and “came in and out,” she said.
“You know who you are. You know what you did. Don’t make us come find you,” the mayor said, displaying some of the photos.
“The utter contempt and disrespect on so many levels is almost hard to fathom . . . I do have a range of emotions as I stand here. But mostly, I’m done. We cannot go on like this any longer . . . not one of these officers will be allowed to hide behind the badge and go on and act like nothing ever happened. Not anymore. Not in my city. Not in your city.”
First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio called the actions of the 13 officers “absolutely indefensible.”
“At the same time, these 13 officers were popping popcorn, taking a nap, relaxing inside this office, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other officers on State Street as we got pelted with rocks from rioters,” Riccio said.
“And I’m the first one to jump up and defend officers,” he said. “When they’re improperly accused, I will defend them 100 percent of the time and they know it. This is indefensible.”
Police Supt. David Brown offered his own apology to Rush. The superintendent said he summoned his command staff to a meeting Thursday morning to talk about the incident after viewing the tape provided by Rush. The congressman had met with the mayor and Brown to show them the video on Wednesday evening.
When commanders told Brown he was being “too harsh” in disciplining officers, he said he told them: “It’s time for you to stop talking. Our words are cheap when we defend officers for their misconduct. That the integrity of the Chicago Police Department is far more important than any individual’s friendship with you or family relationship with you.”
He said he told them this was a “seminal moment” for the department and that it was time to “reveal their leadership.”
Echoing what his mom told him when he misbehaved as a kid, Brown said he told his commanders, “I’m not playing with you” and that supervisors “need to step up or step out. … Let’s now be the good cops who hold the bad cops accountable by rooting them out of this profession. Period. No question mark. No gray area.”
“If you sleep during a riot, what do you do on a regular shift when there’s no riot? What are you doing when there’s no crisis? And what makes you comfortable enough that a supervisor won’t hold you accountable?” the superintendent said.
Thursday evening, CPD released a statement via Twitter saying that “an internal investigation has been opened into the police response and actions that took place from the late evening of May 31, 2020 into June 1, 2020, at Congressman Bobby Rush’s campaign office.” The timeline of events will be confirmed during the investigation, the announcement said.
The latest in a string of embarrassments for CPD comes as the death of George Floyd at the hands of now-former Minneapolis police officers has touched off demonstrations across the nation and demands for police reform.
It happened early on Monday, June 1, at Rush’s campaign office in the Grand Boulevard Plaza shopping mall, 5401 S. Wentworth Ave.
Sometime during that Sunday, as looting and mayhem that had raged that day before in downtown Chicago spilled over into South and West side neighborhoods, Rush got a call that his campaign office had been burglarized.
When he finally got around to viewing the video, Rush said he was horrified by what he saw.
“We saw eight or more police officers, including three white shirts, in repose, relaxing during these most difficult times. They had their feet up on the desk. One was asleep on my couch . . . One was on his cell phone,” Rush said.
The white shirts indicate CPD supervisors.
“They even had the unmitigated gall to go and make coffee for themselves and to pop popcorn — my popcorn, in my microwave — while looters were tearing apart businesses within their sight, within their reach. They were in a moment of relaxation and they did not care about what was happening to business people in this city. They absolutely didn’t care.”
Catanzara acknowledged the photo of an officer sleeping on a couch in Rush’s office “looks bad.” But he argued it can be easily explained.
“This was 1 a.m. They destroyed that mall all afternoon. There was nothing left to loot there. She’s lying . . . Every store in that strip mall was destroyed and emptied out. The jewelry store was set afire . . . The police were told to stand down and let it happen,” Catanzara said.
“They show up late in the evening after all of the looting is done. The office is damaged. There’s nothing left there. And they were asked by — initially I’m told a boss, but now I’m being told the boss got a phone call from Bobby Rush’s staffers — and were encouraged to go to the office and hang out there and make themselves at home and keep it from being totally destroyed.”
Until Thursday, Lightfoot and Rush were political adversaries.
In March 2019, Rush warned during a campaign rally for then-mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle that the “blood of the next young black man or black woman” killed by police would be on the hands of Lightfoot’s supporters if the former police board president was elected mayor.
Lightfoot was livid. They didn’t speak for months. In fact, the mayor held a grudge against those elected officials who were on the podium with Rush at the Preckwinkle rally and did not immediately denounce his vitriolic and racially incendiary attack.
On Thursday, all was forgiven.
The congressman was so impressed with the mayor’s handling of the incident, he urged all Chicagoans to “line up behind this mayor” who has led them through a pandemic and is now attempting to heal the city.
Lightfoot said she plans to use the embarrassment to demand reforms that might otherwise have been unthinkable.
That includes the licensing of police officers statewide, a movement that failed just five years ago, and changes to a police contract that, she has long claimed, “codifies the code of silence” in CPD. She also noted that disgraced former Area 2 Commander Jon Burge held onto his police pension until his death.
“There’s nothing right about that. That’s offensive . . . We’ve got to right that wrong as well,” the mayor said.
A former Police Board president, Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability appointed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
The task force demanded changes to a police contract that, it claimed, “codifies the code of silence” that Emanuel famously acknowledged exists at CPD.
The City Council’s Black Caucus has threatened to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to give officers 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting. The Caucus has also taken aim at anonymous complaints and the portion of the police contract that allows officers to change statements after reviewing video.
On Thursday, Lightfoot reaffirmed her commitment to delivering a police contract that makes it easier to discipline wayward officers even though the Fraternal Order of Police is under new and more militant leadership.
“There will be a reckoning for the FOP. And that moment is now,” she said.
Catanzara countered: “Bring it on.”