The Chicago FOP Head’s Remarks Underline Doubts About Police Loyalty

The Chicago FOP Head’s Remarks Underline Doubts About Police Loyalty

The Chicago FOP Head’s Remarks Underline Doubts About Police Loyalty

John Catanzara’s comments minimizing the Capitol rampage are a vivid example of the police’s double standard in America’s cities.


Chicago— The ricochets of the mob assault on the Capitol in Washington earlier this month have spun off in many unanticipated directions. Not all of them are terrible.

Here in Chicago, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, John Catanzara, is under fire for comments he made in support of the marauders.

“There was no arson, there was no burning of anything, there was no looting, there was very little destruction of property,” Catanzara told WBEZ, the local NPR affiliate, on the evening of January 6, as the Capitol was being cleared of rioters. “It was a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way.”

The mob acted “out of frustration. There’s no fights. There’s no, obviously, violence in this crowd,” he said on audiotape. “They pushed past security and made their way to the Senate chamber. Did they destroy anything when they were there? No.”

Catanzara’s comments set off a storm of anger among the public and city officials. Even the national Fraternal Order of Police rebuked him, calling his comments a “gross mischaracterization.” Two days later, Catanzara retracted and apologized for his remarks, saying they were “poorly worded.… I brought negative attention to our lodge, the FOP family and law enforcement in general.”

Alderman Andre Vasquez took the initiative to draft a City Council resolution calling on Catanzara to resign. By January 11 he had 35 cosignatories out of the 50 aldermen on the council.

Catanzara caused alarm in part because his knee-jerk remarks gave credence to the fear that police departments around the country may be infiltrated by right-wing radicals whose loyalty to the public and the constitutional order may be subordinate to their loyalty to the Trumpist agenda.

In the days after the riot, the police departments of cities in Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, California, and other states revealed that officers in their force had participated in the mob at the Capitol. Suspicions were even raised that the failure to defend the Capitol, its lawmakers, and its work force might have been an inside job, abetted by right-wing sympathizers in the Capitol police and federal law enforcement.

Catanzara’s remarks “tell you everything you need to know about why the relationship between law enforcement and the communities that we serve in Chicago are so fractured,” said Kim Foxx, the Black progressive Cook County state’s attorney, in a television interview. “His comments are not just about him but the men and women he represents. He does them no service when he speaks.”

During the controversy over the Jussie Smollett case in 2019—when Chicago police accused the former Empire actor of staging a racial and homophobic attack to promote his career—the FOP and “four white nationalist groups marched…calling for my head,” Foxx recalled vividly. “John Catanzara was out there in his Trump jersey, posing for pictures with members of QAnon.”

Catanzara has been a lightning rod ever since winning the election as police union president in May 2020. “He has shown a complete disdain for most of our communities and the people in them, with not only how he approaches his job as a police officer, but—even before he was FOP president—with his comments on people of color,” said Alderman Scott Waguespack in an interview. “He should resign.”

Not only that—he should be removed from the Chicago police force entirely, said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.

Over the past 10 years, city observers have noted, the leadership of the FOP has moved in lockstep with national Republican politics. Catanzara “is more interested in pushing Trumpism and this extreme right-wing worldview than he is in representing the bread-and-butter issues of the members of the FOP,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

The Chicago police force’s refusal to countenance reform or cooperate in implementing a consent decree was one of the issues leading to the victory of Lori Lightfoot in the April 2019 mayoral election. After the infamous Laquan McDonald video of 2014 was finally released, more than a year after his shooting by police, Rahm Emanuel’s political future was nullified and he did not run for reelection.

Black, lesbian, and new to elective office of any kind, Lightfoot ran on a platform of holding police accountable for their actions in the minority community. (While waiting for trial, the officer who shot McDonald 16 times, Jason Van Dyke, was hired as a janitor by the FOP.)

Troubling incidents with the city’s police force continue to bedevil its political leadership. Recently a video emerged that put Lightfoot under an unflattering light not dissimilar to the one that exposed Emanuel, and called into doubt her commitment—and capacity—to reform the police.

On November 13, 2019, a police car drove over a 32-year-old Black woman on the South Side. The two officers left the woman’s leg pinned under the vehicle for several minutes before they moved the car or offered first aid.

For months, the department fought release of the dashcam and body camera videos. When finally pressured by a judge to make the footage public, the department edited out the most incriminating parts. Lightfoot and her administration have been accused of delaying the release of the videos, an allegation she has denied. The full unredacted tapes came into public view only in recent weeks.

An even more inflammatory story emerged in November. In February 2019 Chicago cops burst into a Black woman’s home and kept her naked and standing in her living room. Police refused to listen to the woman, Anjanette Young, when she told them they had the wrong address.

Young’s subsequent FOIA request for the police video of the raid was denied by the city. Lightfoot at first denied knowing anything about the raid and the refusal of the videotape. Later, she was forced to backtrack and admitted that she had in fact known about the incident—a blow to the credibility of the woman who had once led the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force.

Because of his popularity among police officers, Catanzara probably will not resign or be forced to quit. That means he will continue to be the lead negotiator with the city on the next police contract.

Some question whether Lightfoot has the backbone to bring the FOP to terms. “Our mayor has unfortunately a tendency to want to coddle the right wing,” Ramirez-Rosa said in an interview. “She also hasn’t gone as far as many mainstream Democrats across the country in pushing for police reforms. That may have to do with her background as a prosecutor. It’s increasingly become clear it’s going to be the Chicago City Council that is going to have to lead on many of these important issues.”

Yet the potential neutralization of Catanzara and the police department’s loss of esteem in the public mind could give a boost to efforts to upgrade and professionalize local policing in the rest of Illinois.

A bill with provisions to standardize the use of force was being debated in the Illinois legislature in recent months. The Chicago FOP, along with other law enforcement advocacy groups, was organizing opposition in hopes of derailing the bill.

But the FOP’s “incompetence” and its “not very sophisticated” political and lobbying position is turning out to be “helpful to us progressives,” Ramirez-Rosa said. Indeed, in the waning hours of the legislative session on January 13, the bill passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, making Illinois the first state to eliminate cash bail and require police to wear body cameras, two long-term goals of progressives.

Thus Illinois citizens, especially the state’s nonwhite residents who distrust the old-guard police force, could turn out to be the long-term indirect beneficiaries of the white supremacists’ riot in the US Capitol.

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