By John Kass
When Chicago Police officer Ella French was murdered after a traffic stop on another bloody weekend in the city of anarchy, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made her “big speech.”
Mayors always make “the big speech” when a police officer is killed in the line of duty. And the one Lightfoot delivered on Sunday was typical of others I’ve seen. It was somber and sought to bridge the divide between police critics and supporters and protect her own flanks. And it was deeply political, because she used it to cover her own flanks.
But Lightfoot forgot an important part. She forgot to say that for years now, she’s been the one throwing cops under the bus to boost her politics.
And police, and their families I spoke with for this column, sum her up in one word:
“I’m so angry at the mayor,” said the wife of a veteran Chicago Police officer who works on the South Side. “Ella French was young, inexperienced, she shouldn’t have been out there, but manpower is so low that these kids get sent to the roughest places, and Lightfoot has spent years throwing cops under the bus.
“The mayor made her damn speech, and she said something like, ‘they’re human too.’ Police are human, too? God! Really? Thank you Lori. I don’t really think she thinks they’re human. They’re a mechanism to further her agenda.”
Another wife of a veteran officer who works on the North Side said she didn’t handle the mayor’s speech or what happened to French very well.
“I don’t think I’m handling this well at all,” she said. “I’m worried all the time. He’s good at compartmentalizing. When he’s home, he’s home. ‘Let’s go into the garden,’ he’ll say, or ‘Let’s walk the dog.’ When I cry, I do it after he’s gone.”
So politicians make speeches. But you know who isn’t supposed to make a speech? Cops themselves, and their families. They feel under siege, by politicians and media and they suffer in silence.
I’ve confirmed that cops turned their backs on the mayor when she tried speaking to them at the hospital. The father of French’s partner, the critically wounded officer, was also angry at Lightfoot and told her what he thought of her in no uncertain terms at the hospital.
His son has lost an eye and is clinging to life with a bullet in his head. His father, a retired cop himself, spoke his mind. He was angry. They’re all angry. They have the right. It’s not the first time a police family member had their say to a mayor. It isn’t the first time that cops have turned their backs on a mayor.
They’re also furious with First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter, who for years has handled the rituals of police funerals . Hundreds of cops lined up at the Medical Examiners Office after Ella French died, waiting for French’s body to roll past and to give their final salute as the pipes played and the snare drums rolled.
“It’s a ritual, it is what we do, we’ve always done this,” said a top police source. “It’s our last time to pay respect before the body goes into the morgue and is processed. It’s important to us.”
But Carter is reportedly on police audio, ordering cops and paramedics not to wait for the pipes and drums. It’s gone viral among the Chicago Police. I heard the video. My sources say it is Carter.
“We’re not gonna be waiting on the bagpipes,” says a command voice said to be Carter’s on the police scanner. “Go ahead and get the vehicle inside. Take it all the way inside. Do not stop.”
It? That’s not an ‘it.’ The body of a fallen officer is not an ‘it.’ A boss who handles funerals should know that at least.
In a video taken by a cop at the scene, Carter walks by, saying “we’re not waiting 20 minutes for this….”
“That’s Carter, wow,” said a police voice on the video.
I called police headquarters to confirm it was Carter, but couldn’t get an answer one way or another. You’d think the mayor or Supt. David Brown would want to know. The point is a command issue, a morale issue. All police are furious.
But that will probably be washed away by other news, including Supt. Brown mistakenly referring to Ella French in a news conference as “Ella Fitzgerald.” Pathetic.
Murder charges were filed against the alleged shooters on Monday. And now, more questions are being asked.
Questions as to whether all the young, inexperienced officers in supremely violent neighborhoods at night have been intimidated by politics and the fear that their bosses, and the politicians, won’t back them up. They’ve been trained in a climate of fear, and so, do they hesitate rather than put vigorous hands on suspects when necessary?
They don’t want to be on a video. They don’t want to be shamed. They don’t want to lose their careers. Some hesitate. And that can be deadly.
Media might forget, the mayor and police brass might avoid it. But cops and their families won’t forget about what happened at the morgue, or the uncertainty about hands-on policing that has crept into law enforcement, and what that means for the survival of those they love.
Take a look at the photo taken by the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, of cops outside the hospital, with French, 29, dead and her wounded partner fighting for his life in critical condition. You can see the backs of their necks and almost see the silence, and the anger.
It took some convincing to get some police families to talk. They know how vindictive City Hall can be. I am not identifying them, but they are families of the real police.
On Sunday in her big speech, Lightfoot said:
“There are some who say that we do not do enough for the police, and that we are handcuffing them from doing their jobs. There are others who say that we do too much, and don’t hold them accountable for what they do, particularly in black and brown neighborhoods. To all of this I say: Stop.
This constant strife is not what we need in this moment,” she said.
She doesn’t want strife? Then why did she bring police accountability into it with a young officer dead and another in critical condition?
Lightfoot saying “stop” gives defensive ammunition to her media apologists, but it does nothing for morale of the police force.
“We have a common enemy,” Lightfoot continued. “It’s the guns and the gangs. Eradicating both is complex.”
Then she quickly eradicated reference to street gangs in her written and Twitter statements. So, it turns out that eradicating street gangs wasn’t all that complicated for City Hall. They’re just words to suits.
I’m not saying that bad cops don’t deserve a rhetorical bashing. They do. And when they’re out of line, they deserve sanction.
But for years, Chicago’s mayor has cozied up to the hard left of the Chicago Teachers’ Union and gave CTU a great contract and gave the cops the back of her hand to protect her progressive cred.
Remember how she lambasted one officer for a vulgar hand signal to George Floyd protesters from a car, when police were getting spit on and hammered day after day?
A wiser mayor would have simply admonished him, brushed it off saying she’d talk to his supervisor and let it go. But she hammered him publicly.
She works them to exhaustion, with 12 hour shifts and vacations cancelled, while her City Hall suits take their vacations. And she endorsed catch-and-release Cook County State’s Atty. Kim Foxx for re-election.
She made fools of exhausted cops during the riots and looting sprees, when they dared rest in U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s office and munched on his office popcorn. Or have you forgotten the Great Bobby Rush Popcorn scandal? Cops haven’t.
She tried covering up her administration’s actions in the Anjanette Young raid, and that’s not going away, but will come back to bite her.
When 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot after a foot chase—the boy had a gun—she effectively put an end to police foot chases.
But how can police keep order if they can’t can’t run after criminals and make arrests.
Lightfoot undercuts the ability of police to do their jobs. And what seeps into the empty spaces of degraded public order?
“Manpower is disastrously low,” said another police spouse. “And calls of service are so high. But there’s no one to send. Last year, she pulled officers from districts to cover her house. Police families know this. We know the underbelly of the city, what’s out there. And there just isn’t support coming from City Hall.”
Police are undermanned, demoralized, overworked and exhausted, spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Columnists like me, and politicians like Lightfoot can change the subject and talk about something else from day to day.
Cop families can’t do that. There is one subject, only one: Waiting for mothers and fathers to come home.
The George Floyd riots kicked it off, the hate of police families on social media further isolated them, they feel targeted by politics and media. They sit in silence in their homes and wait.
“My anger toward the mayor is visceral now,” said another police spouse. “She endorsed Kim Foxx. [Foxx’s patron, Cook County Board President Toni] Preckwinkle is awfully quiet and [Chief] Judge Evans, and they’re all members of this crew putting violent repeat offenders on electronic home monitoring, which we know doesn’t work, so my husband might run into them at night.
“He’s out there. They’re home, with security. And he’s out there and they make speeches. Am I angry? You bet I’m angry.”
After officer French was murdered, the police spouse who said she was angry went to church with her family. She silently watched her husband pray.
“This is all so hard to reconcile when you’re standing in church, and the priest asks for prayers for public officials,” she said. “Oh my God forgive me, but I don’t want to pray for the elected, I want them to go away.
“My husband is next to me. I can see he’s emotional. The kids are emotional. This is the church my children were baptized in, where my parents were buried, and I’m thinking, I’m supposed to pray for Lori after all she’s done?
(Copyright 2021 John Kass)