Amid civil unrest over the deadliest Memorial Day weekend in five years, a dozen Chicago police officers lounged inside an already-broken-into campaign office for U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, eating popcorn, drinking coffee and sleeping, while looters damaged the businesses nearby.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the misconduct “disgusting” and apologized to the congressman for having to deal with such “incredible indignity.”
The shocking scene unfolded during the early morning hours of June 1, the mayor said. It was caught on the security cameras inside Rush’s office at 5401 S. Wentworth Ave. The office is part of a strip mall that also includes a health center, a nail salon, a cell phone store and other retail shops.
The mayor said the tapes show three supervisors, referred to as “white shirts” by the mayor and police superintendent, and 10 officers.
Lightfoot vowed to “take the strongest possible action” against the officers and showed photos at the news conference demanding they turn themselves in.
“You know who you are, you know what you did, don’t make us come find you,” Lightfoot said.
“Not one of these officers will be allowed to hide behind the badge … not in my city, not in your city,” she added.
Lightfoot fought back tears as she talked about being a black woman in America and fighting every day against injustice.
“The actions of these officers — the deplorable lack of responsibility to do their job at a time when the city and their fellow officers needed them most — their conduct will confirm the perception that too many people on the South and the West Sides [have] … that police don't care if black and brown communities were looted and burned,” Lightfoot said.
“If we don’t harness this moment to rethink what ‘serving and protecting’ means, we will never do it,” Lightfoot said. “This moment presents us with an opportunity not to nibble around the edges, but to be bold.”
Chicago is currently under a federal consent decree to reform the police department. A court-appointed monitor already opened an investigation into how the police responded to recent protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Lightfoot called out the Fraternal Order of Police contract for standing in the way of needed reforms. “There will be a reckoning for the FOP, and I think that moment is now.”
She also said she has directed her legal team to begin drafting legislation to change state law to require police be licensed and certified.
Police Superintendent David Brown said the integrity of the police department is at stake, calling this a seminal moment.
“If you sleep during a riot, what do you do on a regular shift when there's no riot? What are you doing when there's no crisis? And what makes you comfortable enough that supervisors won't hold you accountable?” Brown said.
Brown took over as Chicago’s top cop earlier this year. He was previously the police chief in Dallas, where he had a reputation for coming down hard on problem officers.
Terrance Hopkins, a Dallas police officer and president of the city’s Black Police Association, called Brown a “stickler” who held officers accountable.
“I’ve seen Chief Brown fire more officers than you can shake a stick at,” Hopkins said.
Brown has shown that toughness during the recent protests in Chicago, placing multiple officers on desk duty for allegations of misconduct.
John Catanzara, president of Chicago’s largest police union, complained about Brown’s disciplinary decisions in an interview with WBEZ on Thursday.
“There seems to be a new policy now of stripping police powers randomly for the most minor infractions,” Catanzara said.
But on Thursday Brown defended his actions as a necessary correction for CPD.
“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.”
Brown vowed to “uphold the nobility” of the profession.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea. Email her at email@example.com. Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.