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Problem is, he represents the cops too well

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara isn’t an embarrassment to the force. He’s an embodiment.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks of the support from President Donald Trump and local officials during a Southside Trump Rally at Firewater Saloon at 3910 W 111th St in Mount Greenwood, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks of the support from President Donald Trump and local officials during a Southside Trump Rally at Firewater Saloon at 3910 W 111th St in Mount Greenwood, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Anthony Vazquez, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Saturday morning: coffee, sunshine and an email with the subject, “John Catanzara, Chicago FOP President, IMMEDIATE REMOVAL FROM OFFICE.”

Hmmm, thought I, must be from a retired police officer.

It was, Richard W. Sanchez Sr., “CPD Retired.” I knew it!

In retirement, Chicago police officers go through this marvelous metamorphosis. They serve for decades, mute caterpillars of the silent brotherhood. Then they disappear into their retirement cocoons, to emerge in the sunshine of Florida or Arizona or, in this case, Valparaiso, Indiana, as these glorious butterflies of opinion, their colorful views on display for the world to admire.

Not Catanzara, of course. As you know, he is the bigmouth president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the one CPD job where the gag comes off. He’s made it his personal mission to remind the public at every opportunity just how touchy and reactionary police officers can be, how passionately devoted to serving and protecting themselves.

Self-regard and bottomless grievance make them the ideal Trump fan demographic. One of the least surprising fallouts from Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol is how many police officers from around the country joined the mob. Wonder why Catanzara wasn’t there; maybe he was busy, talking.

While you and I and every decent person were slack-jawed in horror at the sight of the mob sacking the seat of democracy, someone at WBEZ had the presence of mind to stick an open mike in front of Catanzara’s eternally flapping yap, and he justified away.

“There’s no, obviously, violence in this crowd,” he began.

Not so obvious to the Capitol police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, who was killed. Nor to the cops injured trying to hold off the attack.

Reaction from the thinking community was swift, and Catanzara issued the typical half apology, satisfying no one, including my retiree, who demanded the national union fire him. No. 4 of his six bullet points was: “I believe John Catanzara has committed ‘a gross dereliction of his duty’ by siding with the insurrectionist mob and stating it with craven zeal.”

Maybe all this COVID lockdown business is getting to me. But I phoned Sanchez up to sound him out about why he wrote the email.

“I felt I had to say something, I had to voice my opinion,” Sanchez said. “A leader is supposed to put the fires out, supposed to be the calm in the storm, supposed to lead. He wants to put gas on the fire. ... This guy, he is the worst thing that could have happened to the FOP.”

Yet elected by the rank and file, yes? The mass of good officers we always invoke, like a kind of benediction, every time one busts into the wrong house or shoots a Black kid scratching his ear. How come?

“A lot of people who should have voted didn’t, including myself,” he said.

But isn’t Catanzara a perfect representative of the CPD? Particularly his shoot-off-his-mouth-first, assess-the-situation-later defense of the riot? That’s unofficial police procedure, is it not?

”Police officers around the country are feeling that everybody is against them,” Sanchez said. “Believe me, I’m not condoning any wrongdoing.”

Too much of that already. And for the record I do regularly bump into solid, professional Chicago police officers just trying to do their jobs and get home at night.

“Most police officers want to help people,” Sanchez agreed. “I believe most police officers want to be good police officers, they don’t go out there, wake up in the morning, ‘Hey, I’m going kick somebody’s ass, going to lock somebody up because I don’t like how they look.’ That’s not how it is.”

Life is good in retirement. Being able to say what you think without fear is only the beginning.

“Out here, we have a little bit of property, keeps you busy,” he said. “It’s like living in a big park.”

Though retired for eight years, Sanchez still cares about FOP leadership.

“We can’t have people in his position who believe conspiracy theories and preach violence and say it’s all right,” said Sanchez. “If he misspoke, he isn’t watching. And if he can’t take the time to watch before he speaks, what kind of leader is that?”

The kind the FOP elected, that’s who. Maybe the kind it deserves. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.