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Timid City Hall and undermanned cops turned Saturday unrest into ‘s--tshow,’ police union president says

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said many actions taken Sunday were a day late, such as imposing a curfew and canceling days off. And the National Guard should have been called out in far greater numbers.

A protester sprays paint on a Chicago Police Department SUV on Kinzie Street near State Street on Saturday. Thousands of protesters in Chicago over several days have joined national outrage over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
A protester sprays paint on a Chicago Police Department SUV on Kinzie Street near State Street on Saturday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Saturday night was a “s--tshow” in downtown Chicago because police were undermanned and ill-equipped and City Hall was too timid to take the steps necessary to prevent rioting, looting and mayhem, the police union president said Wednesday.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said curfew should have been imposed Saturday morning — not Saturday night — and strictly enforced by impounding vehicles so they could not be used to transport looted merchandise. Downtown should have been sealed off Saturday morning also, he said.

Police days off should also have been canceled Saturday morning — not Sunday — and the Illinois National Guard should have been called out sooner and in far greater numbers than the 375 authorized by Gov. J.B. Pritzker at Lightfoot’s request to use the Guard only to control the downtown perimeter, Catanzara said.

Earlier this week, CPD Supt. David Brown pegged the number of injured officers at 132, including one officer suffering a heart attack during the mayhem.

On Wednesday, Catanzara held City Hall responsible for causing those injuries, in part, by allowing officers to be under-manned and failing to put them in full riot gear, as was done during the 2012 NATO Summit. Instead, officers wore helmets and shields only. Many also were forced to share radios, an equipment shortage Catanzara called “inexcusable.”

“The lack of a plan and the fear of worrying about what militant, unlawful, disgusting human beings were doing caused the injuries to my members unnecessarily. They were more worried about the protesters and their demands and concerns than the health and well-being of my officers,” Catanzara said.

Chicago police officers on State Street near Wacker Drive, where thousands of protesters gathered Saturday to join national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody,
Chicago police officers on State Street near Wacker Drive, where thousands of protesters gathered Saturday to join national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody,
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“I know she’s going to dispute that, but the facts don’t lie. Saturday was, quote-unquote, a s--tshow. That falls squarely on City Hall’s inability to plan ahead and also at 35th and Michigan (CPD headquarters) — their lack of any game plan for this coming here. They should have known, after watching what happened in Minnesota, what would we do if that happens here. And it doesn’t seem like that was a consideration at all. That’s pretty inexcusable.”

Catanzara characterized the mayor’s 9 p.m. curfew, which remains in effect five days after the downtown riots, as “laughable.”

“The curfew was enacted late on Saturday night. But there was never an order given to start rounding everybody up. There was no direction. There was no leadership. Everybody that was on the street Saturday night should have been rounded up and locked up for curfew and held. They should have stopped cars, taken them out of cars and impounded the vehicles,” Catanzara said.

“That would have gone a long way to stop a lot of the looting that happened in downtown and the surrounding areas — Roosevelt Road and all of that stuff. Because it was car after car after car just driving anywhere they could, smashing a window, running in, grabbing what they could, throw it in the car and drive on to the next spot. This was all while the curfew was supposedly in effect. The same could be said for Sunday. There was lots of people out. I don’t care if they’re peaceful protesters or they’re violent protesters. They’re still out after curfew. If you’re going to enact an emergency law to try and get civil control, well then, you have to enforce it.”

For the third straight day, Lightfoot and Brown defended the decisions they have made during the unrest.

The mayor emphatically denied protecting downtown at the expense of Chicago neighborhoods but said violence and looting “spread like wildfire” through the South and West sides Sunday in a way that would have overwhelmed a police department of any size.

She likened what happened in the neighborhoods Sunday and Monday to “somebody setting a match to a dry forest and the blaze spread.

“Apparently, we’re gonna be answering this question every day for the foreseeable future,” Lightfoot said, clearly annoyed with the persistent narrative. She argued “organized theft rings” downtown “weren’t the same as they were in the neighborhoods.”

Once again, Lightfoot put her foot down about increasing National Guard numbers, saying the Guard is “trained in military tactics — not in local policing.” Their value is in freeing up police resources for the neighborhoods, she said.

Catanzara doesn’t buy it. He argued Lightfoot’s “fear of looking too militant” prevented her from allowing officers to dress in full riot gear and using tear gas, if necessary.

Chicago police officers stand in front of businesses on Lake Park Avenue near 52nd Street on the third day of protests in Chicago over the death of George Floyd.
Chicago police officers stand in front of businesses on Lake Park Avenue near 52nd Street on Sunday, the third day of protests in Chicago over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“When I talk riot gear, I’m talking the total gear: The knee pads, the shin guards, the elbows — all of that stuff that we had for NATO. Officers have that gear. We were not using it for a very specific purpose: The appearance of being this giant, military-type force was obviously a concern for the mayor and everybody advising her,” he said.

“My members stood shoulder-to-shoulder and defended this city as best they could — as ill-equipped as they were at times. I mean we still — almost nine years after NATO — do not have a single radio for every officer sworn on the job right now. There were two officers sharing one radio in many circumstances the last couple days. That is just ridiculous. … It’s a major safety issue.”

Former CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy couldn’t agree more. His front-line leadership during the 2012 NATO Summit helped defuse a potentially volatile confrontation with provocateurs at Michigan and Cermak.

“They’re not being allowed to wear riot gear because it’s too intimidating. Well, it’s also supposed to protect the cops, who are getting rocks and bricks and getting their butts kicked,” McCarthy had said earlier this week.

“The decisions being made are just flabbergasting. … I’m not sure exactly where they’re coming from. But, I suspect they’re coming from civilians — not police. And I just see complete disorganization. The anarchists who believe in no order have more order than the police.”

A protester sets a U.S. flag ablaze on Kinzie Street in Chicago on Saturday.
A protester sets a U.S. flag ablaze on Kinzie Street in Chicago on Saturday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

McCarthy said the only way to restore order is to “have a plan to be deployed properly at the places and times that you need to be” and have “mobile field forces in riot gear who can respond to these violent clashes and quell them by going into the crowd and taking the agitators out.”

Instead, “all you see now are lines of cops standing around and getting pelted. The looting goes on. The assaults go on,” McCarthy told the Sun-Times Tuesday.

“I’m not sure if this city is gonna recover from this if we don’t get it under control like now. Just like the West Side still has not recovered from 1968. This could really put the lights out in Chicago if we don’t get a hold on it.”

Chicago aldermen have accused the mayor of being caught flat-footed by violent protests she should have anticipated, then belatedly imposing a curfew and sealing off downtown, pushing looting, arson and mayhem into South and West side neighborhoods.

Catanzara agreed. Downtown was sealed off too late — after the damage was “already done.”

“The South and West Sides happened because they plundered everything downtown. They were just looking for new places to steal from. It was just a natural progression that they were gonna keep moving on and taking advantage of the chaos to steal whatever they could steal,” Catanzara said.

“I hate when they keep referring to these people as protesters. They were anarchists. They were not protesters. … People breaking windows are not protesters that are now mad. They’re a--holes who are just looking to steal stuff. They’re opportunists.”

A looted Sprint store in Chicago on Saturday, when thousands of protesters joined national outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A looted Sprint store in Chicago on Saturday, when thousands of protesters joined national outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times