Interim police Supt. Charlie Beck said it best when he summed up the downfall of former top cop Eddie Johnson:
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Beck said. “But we have to live with that.”
So I’m not dancing on Johnson’s grave. After a 31-year career, Johnson was tripped up by behavior unbecoming a married man and a police chief, behavior that ended with him slumped over the steering wheel of his car.
Because Johnson had only weeks till retirement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot could have let him off. But she didn’t. Lightfoot fired Johnson, saying he lied to her and the public about what took place that night.
His firing resulted in more than an ugly end to a stellar career. It has triggered an investigation into a possible cover-up.
If you or I were found slumped at the wheel of a running car, we would have to undergo a sobriety test and, at best, would have been told to take an Uber home.
Everyone caught up in this scandal seems to have made bad choices.
Johnson certainly could have told the mayor he was out drinking for hours with a woman who’s not his wife, as a video supposedly shows. But what married man would have done that?
And the police officers who were unfortunate enough to respond to a citizen’s call about Johnson’s predicament could have ordered Johnson out of the car. But that would have taken some kind of nerve. He was the “Sup,” for goodness sake.
It’s tragic that after serving through some tough times, Johnson’s career with the Chicago Police Department ended on such a sour note. But he will get his pension. And his marriage will either survive, or it won’t.
But several police officers are going to have to answer for their bad choices. Cops are under investigation into whether they took part in a cover-up to protect their boss.
The Fraternal Order of Police leadership is trying to make a case that Johnson’s firing was unfair because he hadn’t spoken with the City Hall inspector general’s office that was investigating the matter.
“It’s not about Eddie Johnson,” said Kevin Graham, the union’s president. “It’s about any police officer getting fair and due process.”
Graham argued that the mayor fired Johnson because she wants to bring “somebody in from outside” as the next superintendent.
That’s laughable. Lightfoot doesn’t have to scheme to make that happen. She’s the mayor. Whoever is superintendent serves at her pleasure.
Besides, the way this is playing out shows why someone who rose through the ranks might not be the best choice for the next superintendent.
Chicago doesn’t need its police officers to be loyal to the superintendent as much as it needs them to be loyal to its citizens.
Which brings me to the next cop incident that exposes expectations that sometimes are unreasonable.
The police say that, on Thanksgiving, Bernard Kersh was drinking alcohol at a bus stop on the South Side and, when confronted by officers, “spit” in the eye and mouth of one of them. A cellphone video showed the officer throwing Kersh to the ground.
Obviously, the video of a police officer body-slamming a man whose head is smacked against a curb is hard to stomach. Where I grew up, though, Kersh would have suffered a great deal more than being body-slammed. He would have been beaten to a pulp.
I’m not suggesting that’s what the police should have done. But the police reform effort is working. The city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability moved quickly to strip the officer of his police powers after the video surfaced on social media. A second officer was later stripped of his powers while COPA does a “use-of-force” investigation.
Kersh ended up in a hospital. He’s charged with aggravated battery of a peace officer, misdemeanor counts of assault and resisting arrest, and a count of drinking alcohol in public.
I think these police officers showed a lot more restraint than many of us would have.
And if body-slamming is considered excessive force under these circumstances, I’d like to know what we expect police officers to do.
They are not robots. From the top cop down to patrol officers, they are flawed human beings like the rest of us.
Sometimes, we need to be reminded of that.