Book of Job helped Eddie Johnson walk away from job of top cop

“When the going gets tough, I sit down and read Job again and again,” Johnson said. “It’s what keeps me standing.”

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Chicago Police Department Supt. Eddie Johnson’s wife puts her arm around her husband after he announced his retirement during a press conference at CPD headquarters, Thursday morning, Nov. 7, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Top cop.

I’ve gotten to know and like most of the Chicago Police Department’s superintendents since my brief tenure as Mayor Jane Byrne’s press secretary in 1979, when I actually helped select one of them: former top cop Joe DiLeonardi.

The ones who stood out: Phil Cline, Garry McCarthy, LeRoy Martin and Terry Hillard.

All savvy guys; at least one very exceptional leader.

But retiring Supt. Eddie Johnson, a soft-spoken man in charge of security for a city wracked with gun violence, stood out from the tough-talking take-charge pack.

It was no surprise Johnson distanced himself from “leaders who bark orders and point fingers,” during a press conference Thursday morning announcing his retirement at the end of the year.

Johnson, whose only employer has been the people of Chicago, used two words to describe the most important attribute of good leaders: “They listen.”

CPD’s ‘soul’ man

He was, in many ways, the CPD’s “soul” man; someone who was not hesitant to tell you he relied on a certain passage from the Bible to keep his head clear; a person who talked with pride about his mom and dad while growing up in Cabrini-Green; a lawman who joined hands with activist peace priest Michael Pfleger in a protest on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

And it was rereading the biblical passage from the Book of Job — the story of an upright man who continues to suffer catastrophes, yet never loses his faith in God — that led Johnson to move on from the police department.

“I made my final decision shortly after a call from my son Daniel reminding me to read the Book of Job again before I made a decision on whether to retire,” said Johnson.

In an interview with Sneed in 2018, he referred to the same biblical story:

“The Book of Job continues to help me hold on when things go horribly wrong,’’ said Johnson.

“There are not many things I’m afraid of, and I’m not really religious. But I am afraid of the man upstairs. And I’m not going to play around with him.

“When the going gets tough, I sit down and read Job again and again,” he said. “It’s what keeps me standing.”

Cabrini-Green upbringing

The book, he said, “reminds me of why I took the job of a police officer in the first place. It’s not about me. It’s about giving back to the people.

”I spent the first nine years of my life in Cabrini-Green when it was a community which actually stuck together and actually trusted the police,” Johnson said. “Sure, crime was going on and there was the criminal element, but the community as a whole helped raise each other’s children. There was always a Mrs. Jones down the hall to help out.

“We left in 1969. Then in 1988 the daughter of one of my mom’s best friends, who happened to be one of my good friends, went to party and was abducted, raped and killed.

“So a friend of mine decided one way to change things was to become a cop. We took the test. That was it.”

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Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson march arm-in-arm alongside thousands of anti-violence protesters who poured into the inbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway on June 7, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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As top cop, Johnson used a biblical comparison to describe his decision to join Pfleger and march arm-in-arm with thousands of anti-violence protesters in a march on the inbound lanes of the Dan Ryan. The march shut down traffic and brought out countless cops to control the crowds — and was not a place where you’d expect a police chief.

“I suppose you could say it was like an epiphany,” Johnson told me in a quietly emotional telephone interview following the march, which took place in the wake of Chicago’s bloodiest weekend in 2018.

“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.”

What’s next?

Now that Johnson has decided to “suddenly” pull the plug on his 31-year cop career, he claims he is now considering consulting work, as well as sifting through job inquiries of being a police chief in warmer climates on the west and east coasts.

“I am a high-octane guy and I have a lot of energy,” said Johnson.“I plan to continue working.”

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