Some Chicago police officers are lashing out after their colleagues were subjected to harsh condemnation over the course of the last week by the city’s mayor and new police superintendent.
The officers are accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Supt. David Brown of throwing individual cops under the bus when those city leaders actually bear the blame for failing to plan and prepare for predictable unrest after upheaval in Minneapolis over George Floyd’s killing by police.
“There was no f***ing plan in place. You had ample time to prepare, but this administration waited until the last minute, until the s*** hit the fan,” said a CPD field supervisor who was dispatched in several places throughout the city during the protests. “There was no plan, no organization.”
WBEZ spoke with eight Chicago officers in the wake of a press conference Thursday in which Lightfoot and Brown lambasted a group of so-far-unnamed officers for lounging in U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s South Side campaign office — allegedly as looters destroyed businesses nearby.
All of the officers spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that they might lose their jobs, and they all criticized department brass.
Several officers said they believe that the cops who were captured on video in Rush’s office on Monday, June 1, were “set up” to be scapegoated for a failed police response to the looting and vandalism, which shook swaths of Chicago throughout the May 30-31 weekend.
A veteran patrol officer who works downtown said the city was “taking aim” at officers who were working incredibly long days and dealing with the most stressful situation of their lives without proper guidance.
For nearly two weeks, many Chicago officers were working 12-hour days with no days off.
“It’s bad and a little bit embarrassing, but they were probably exhausted,” said a longtime officer who is part of a specialized unit. “Your adrenaline is always up; you’re always on guard.”
Another patrol veteran said he was part of a police contingent pelted with rocks, bottles and bricks thrown by looters along West Madison Street near Pulaski Road on May 30. He said a lack of direction and planning left cops vulnerable there.
“The SWAT guys had large pepper-spray canisters that they ran out of and had no beanbag shotguns or pepper balls,” he said.
“If there had been any forethought, we could have focused on protecting grocery stores, at least, but there was no solid direction coming from 35th Street,” the officer said, referring to police headquarters in the Bronzeville neighborhood.
“As soon as Minneapolis went up, they should have known it could happen here,” the officer said about Lightfoot and Brown. “The city’s response here was piss-poor.”
As the Madison and Pulaski chaos played out, a West Side patrol officer listened in on his police radio and wondered why his own contingent — dozens of officers less than two miles away — was guarding a stripmall that had already been looted.
The police department “could have sent half of us to Madison and Pulaski,” he said, adding that his colleagues there were courageous but “didn’t get the support they needed.”
Lightfoot has pushed back on claims that the city was unprepared for unrest or did not react properly, saying the looting “spread like wildfire” and overwhelmed the department.
“If we had a police department three times the size, it would have been difficult to keep up with all the calls we had,” Lightfoot said at a June 1 news conference.
But officers who spoke to WBEZ described chaotic scenes and a leadership void. The field supervisor said that, while out working during protests, he was much more frustrated with department higher-ups than people in the streets.
“We didn’t agree with it, but we understood the violent outbursts,” the supervisor said. “What we can’t understand is the lack of preparation, and then when one of us makes a mistake, either because of fatigue or stress, they throw us under the bus.”
Some officers believe Thursday’s press conference — when Rush, Lightfoot, Brown and other officials took turns condemning the officers caught on tape — was part of a recent pattern in which city leaders have urged excessive punishment for misbehaving cops, including one who was photographed giving the middle finger to protesters.
On Thursday, Brown called the episode in Rush’s office a “seminal moment.”
“Our words are cheap when we defend officers for their misconduct,” Brown said. “Let’s just quit talking about, ‘There are good officers, that we did a good job and that there are just a few bad apples.’ Let’s now be the good cops who hold the bad cops accountable by rooting them out of this profession.”
Officers who spoke to WBEZ said they support holding officers accountable but contended that Brown went too far when he stripped cops of their police powers for infractions that they did not see as especially serious, and they complained about Lightfoot repeatedly calling for officers to be fired for incidents caught on tape. Several officers brought up the officer caught making the obscene gesture.
“You’re going to strip that guy? I’m all for him being disciplined, but that’s not a fireable offense,” one South Side officer said. “I’m completely done. I can’t trust the mayor’s office. I can’t trust my own boss to have my back if I make a mistake.”
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chip Mitchell, another reporter on that desk, works out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1 and email him at email@example.com.