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Rush, Lightfoot satisfied with suspensions for cops accused of lounging in congressman’s office during looting

The mayor and Rush spoke at the opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center. The effort to build the facility grew out of community outrage over the death of teacher Betty Howard, killed by a stray bullet in 2014.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush at the opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center Tuesday morning, Jan. 19, 2021.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush at the opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center Tuesday morning.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush thanked Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday for keeping her promise to hold accountable Chicago Police officers accused of lounging in Rush’s burglarized campaign office in the same strip mall that was looted by vandals last year.

Seventeen officers and supervisors have been slapped with suspensions ranging from one day to 20 days for allegedly sleeping on a couch, popping popcorn and drinking coffee in Rush’s office while mayhem raged around the city. Another officer got a written reprimand.

Still, Rush said he’s satisfied.

“She kept her promise. She made sure that this investigation didn’t just fall through the cracks. It’s really another example of her leadership and her commitment to making the … CPD a police force that the community can grow to trust,” Rush said.

“Those officers who took the time to relax, take a nap, drink coffee, steal and eat my popcorn while their colleagues, comrades were out doing their level best to create order, re-establish order in the community — they really were AWOL. They abandoned their posts.”

Lightfoot said what happened that night was “utterly unacceptable” and she’s happy the officers are paying the price, even with suspensions as short as a day. She thanked Rush, her former political nemesis, for being “incredibly gracious and patient” as the internal investigation was completed.

“The fact that that happened at the time that it happened — when these police officers essentially took the night off while all hell was breaking loose all around them, while their colleagues were literally getting beaten up and injured all across the city,” the mayor said.

This file still image taken from security video shows Chicago police inside Rush’s burglarized congressional campaign office in Chicago on Sunday, May 31, 2020.
This image taken from security video shows Chicago police inside Rush’s burglarized congressional campaign office in Chicago on Sunday, May 31, 2020.
Associated Press

“And some of the excuses that we heard — that the congressman had invited them in — [were] utterly insulting. ... There always has to be accountability and there will be accountability for these officers.”

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara has filed grievances challenging the suspensions as groundless, and argued one officer was punished “for simply walking in and using the bathroom.”

Catanzara has accused Lightfoot of staging a trumped-up, “Hollywood production” of a press conference about the incident in June to deflect attention from her own failure to stop the bloodbath on Chicago streets during that weekend.

Civil unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis devolved into looting that spread from downtown and River North into South and West side neighborhoods after the Central Business District was belatedly sealed off.

“There was 22 people killed, I believe, killed in one day in June in the city of Chicago during this summer. Distract, distract, distract. Coffee and popcorn. Coffee and popcorn. Don’t look at this,” Catanzara told the Sun-Times last week.

“What do you want people to do when there was nothing going on? They had already secured the whole property. They had originally walked through the parking lot around the back side of all of the buildings to make sure all the doors were secure when they arrived there. They came around the front. There was nothing going on. That was done. Period. Are they supposed to stand at attention in the mall?”

The mayor and Rush made their remarks after presiding over Tuesday’s grand opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center. After teacher Betty Howard was killed by a stray bullet in 2014 in the neighborhood, Rush led an effort to revitalize the community. The construction of that center grew out of that effort.

At the center, residents will have access to career counseling, job training and employer services. There’s also meeting space for community groups, as well as a manufacturing classroom, with instruction provided by the Jane Addams Resource Corporation and Richard J. Daley College.

The new Chatham Education and Workforce Center in the Chatham neighborhood, shown the morning of its grand opening on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.
The new Chatham Education and Workforce Center in the Chatham neighborhood. The grand opening was Tuesday. The impetus for the new building took shape after teacher Betty Howard was killed in the neighborhood by a stray bullet in 2014. The building, includes a community space where residents will have access to career counseling, job training and employer services.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As for other subjects covered during the news conference, Lightfoot:

• Branded the 135% spike in carjackings — with nearly a dozen more over the weekend — a “crisis” and acknowledged teenagers are responsible for most of the violent crimes.

“Young people 15, 16 years old getting in these cars armed and carjacking is a crisis that we have to come together as a community to address,” the mayor said.

“We have to double down our efforts with the courts and other interventions to really reach these young people and [dissuade] them from doing something that can have life-altering effects, not only for them but also the victims.”

• Called the Jan. 6 Capitol siege “Exhibit A” for D.C. statehood. Since the attack, Washington has been turned into an armed camp to secure President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Statehood, Lightfoot said, is needed to give D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser the control she needs to secure her city in the future.

• Expressed gratitude to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for relaxing coronavirus restrictions enough to let museums open to limited capacity and allow indoor fitness classes and gatherings of up to 10 people in Chicago.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll see indoor dining in restaurants relatively soon,” she said.

• Welcomed Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan and said Chicago needs every penny of the replacement revenue it includes.

“Everything in there is something that is needed in cities and states and counties across the country. And I’m gonna do my part to make sure that we advocate and get that plan over the finish line and soon. It’s desperately needed. All of us are suffering,” she said.

Roosevelt Long, the brother of Betty Jean Howard, a teacher killed in 2014 by a stray bullet, speaks during the opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center in the Chatham neighborhood.
Roosevelt Long, the brother of Betty Jean Howard, a teacher killed in 2014 by a stray bullet, speaks during the opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center in the Chatham neighborhood. Howard’s death galvanized the community, and the center grew out of that effort, according to the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times