Police union protests, takes stand against Chicago mayor

Leaders of Chicago’s police union told Mayor Rahm Emanuel he had turned his back on them


By Bill Ruthhart, John Byrne and Gregory Pratt
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Leaders of Chicago’s police union kicked off an emotionally charged City Council meeting Wednesday by telling Mayor Rahm Emanuel he had turned his back on them.

Just outside the chamber, another 40 off-duty police officers stood with their backs turned to more than 100 protesters who opposed the construction of a new police academy. The demonstrators shouted in unison: “We need freedom, freedom! All these racist-a-- cops, we don’t need them, need them!”

A few minutes later, some of the dozens of activists gathered in the council chamber’s balcony began pounding on a protective window, shouting for a vote on the Barack Obama Presidential Center to be stopped because their demands for more housing and economic development benefits tied to the project have not been met.

And downstairs in the City Hall lobby and on the surrounding sidewalks, more than 100 off-duty officers and Fraternal Order of Police members marched during much of the meeting, calling for Emanuel to be removed from office. “Rahm must go! Back the blue!” they chanted, while carrying “Blue Lives Matter” signs.

In a building that long has been ground zero for public demonstrations in Chicago, the City Hall protests on Wednesday stood out for both their wide spectrum of views and raw vitriol.

For some, like Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, it was simply “messy” democracy in action. For others, like Ald. Matt O’Shea, 19th, it was emblematic of how far Chicago’s public discourse has devolved.

“If you were here today, you would think the circus just arrived. We’re laughing, but there’s nothing funny about it. There were teenagers down there yelling, ‘F--- the police,’ flipping the bird to police officers. Teens. It’s embarrassing,” said O’Shea, whose Southwest Side ward is home to many police officers and city employees. “That was not a visual anyone needed to see — that ugliness on the first floor and the second floor. I’m sure on some level the FOP is frustrated, but that wasn’t the display we should have seen. We need to bring people together.”

The fiery picketing comes as the race for Chicago mayor has heated up. Emanuel has racked up more than $7 million toward his re-election bid, while nine challengers have announced they will run against him.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, said he believes a lot of the protest groups are seeking to capitalize on election-season politics. He said all the opposition doesn’t necessarily spell political trouble in the February 2019 election for Emanuel, but does signal the mayor has made plenty of difficult and controversial decisions, particularly on policing.

“Today, we experienced democratic soup, a lot of different interest groups converging on City Hall at the same time,” Reilly said. “There is a lot going on in the city of Chicago, and this administration is having to sort through a lot of divergent interests, highly controversial, and that’s why days like today happen.”

The meeting started with three FOP officials reading statements, followed by a standing ovation from a crowd of several dozen officers seated in the council chambers. With Emanuel standing at the dais at the front of chambers, union Vice President Patrick Murray said police officers think the mayor has cast their interests aside by endorsing a federal consent decree overseeing police reform and not yet agreeing to a new contract nearly a year after the union’s last one expired.

“You are more concerned with consent decrees, settlements, pandering to police-hating groups than negotiating a contract with us,” Murray said. “Our members are starting to believe you have no intention of negotiating a contract with us until after the next election.”

Murray then asked all the FOP members in the gallery to stand. He reiterated that they think Emanuel has turned his back on them and announced: “We are leaving, thank you.” The officers then filed out of chambers and went downstairs to demonstrate.

Reilly said the city needs to support the officers because they have difficult jobs, but he said the FOP’s approach was off.

“Name-calling and making accusations isn’t really going to move the ball down the field or improve the dialogue. I look at this as venting,” he said of the officers. “Hopefully, now we can sit down and work out some meaningful compromise with our partners in the FOP.”

Some of the cops chanted, “Justice for Rialmo!” a reference to Officer Robert Rialmo, who is on desk duty as oversight officials weigh whether he should be fired following a 2015 shooting that killed a bat-wielding teenager and a bystander.

All of it put off Ald. Carrie Austin, Emanuel’s City Council budget chairwoman.

“They’re upset about a ruling. What about so many rulings where they’ve covered up stuff? How come they weren’t upset about that?” Austin said of the Rialmo case. “I support the police 100 percent, the good, the bad and the ugly, because there’s bad apples everywhere. But for them to pull that garbage they pulled today? I thought it was just ridiculous.”

Emanuel’s floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor, was more measured. The Far North Side alderman said all the anger toward Emanuel is almost inevitable, particularly on policing, where the mayor has attempted to chart a course between competing interests — the cops and reform advocates.

“Other than doing nothing, which is not an acceptable alternative, you know some people are going to be upset no matter what,” said O’Connor, 40th. “I think it’s almost one of those things where sometimes in government it’s not pleasing everybody, it’s keeping them equally dissatisfied, and that might be where we’re at.”

Some of Emanuel’s critics, though, saw the City Hall chaos as a reflection of what they contend is the mayor’s deep unpopularity.

Northwest Side Ald. Scott Waguespack said both sides in the police reform debate think the Emanuel administration hasn’t been straight with them, a lack of trust he said has been a recurring problem for the mayor.

“I haven’t seen so much dysfunction in the way that they’ve approached a lot of these issues. You pile on secrecy and lack of transparency and backroom dealing, and it makes everybody equally mad, then you’ve got a problem,” said Waguespack, 32nd. “It’s a style of governing that I think is causing a lot more conflict than normal.”

Progressive Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, said the disparate factions of anti-Emanuel protesters speak to how widespread the dissatisfaction is with his administration.

“This is a mayor who has done a very poor job of governing in the best interests of our neighborhoods,” he said, “And I think Chicagoans from all different political sides, Chicagoans from all neighborhoods — whether it be the West Side, South Side or Northwest Side — are fed up with business as usual at City Hall.”

For his part, Emanuel mostly shrugged off all the controversy. Presenting himself as an arbitrator of sorts, Emanuel said the fact that people on various sides of all these issues are upset with him is proof he’s playing them “down the middle of the fairway.”

“The issue of reform can be contentious. I get that. It can be loud, but it doesn’t deter us from making the necessary changes, necessary investments to achieve both the public safety and the reforms we need,” Emanuel said on policing. “If you don’t do the reforms right, you don’t want to see public safety becoming the first casualty. On the other hand, you cannot go to a period of time where there is no oversight, no transparency, no accountability. We’re going to make the changes.”

The more than 100 FOP members may not have been quite the show of force the union had in mind when it organized buses to pick up off-duty and retired officers from various police districts. In 2009, as many as 3,000 off-duty Chicago police officers encircled City Hall over labor negotiations with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

Back then, officers sought to embarass Daley on the day that International Olympic Committee officials visited the city as Chicago was bidding for the 2016 Summer Games. “No contract, no Olympics,” they chanted that day as they picketed City Hall.

Ald. Ed Burke, a 49-year City Council veteran and a former Chicago police officer, said he didn’t see anything wrong with the FOP’s actions Wednesday.

“I think it was hoped that all interested parties would take a role in the public debate, and that’s what we’re all about here,” said Burke, 14th, who fancies himself a historical authority on all things Chicago City Hall.

Asked if he’d ever seen police officers call for the mayor to be removed from office, Burke responded, “Oh sure. I doubt there are very few things I haven’t seen here.”

When did that happen? Burke offered a contemplative pause and then just walked away without answering.

©2018 the Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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