Above photo: Activist Jasmine Smith speaking in front of City Hall. Fight Back! News/staff.
Chicago, IL – “How do you spell racist? FOP!” The crowd of 50 protesters on the LaSalle Street side of Chicago City Hall were loud and determined, December 13. As usual when there is a vote in city council that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) cares about, there were extra cops on hand for intimidation. But the movement for police accountability had been standing up to the Chicago Police Department for decades.
Among the protesters was Anjanette Young, a medical social worker. In 2019, the Chicago Police mistakenly raided her West Side home. Young, a Black woman, had just stepped out of the shower when they busted in her front door. They handcuffed her naked in her living room, while over a dozen male officers – almost all white – searched her home. After more than ten minutes, finally the officer in charge realized the dimensions of the mistake he had made, and allowed a woman cop to uncuff Young, give her a blanket for partial cover, but then cuffed her again while the search continued.
Young pursued getting the body cam video released to the press to expose the abuse she had suffered. Needless to say, she isn’t one to back down because the cops were out in force.
Arbitrator decision threatens to reverse gains in police accountability
FOP President John Catanzara came into the city council meeting confident of victory. An arbitrator (a judge in labor disputes) had given their union the ability to go to arbitration if an officer was facing serious discipline, “serious” defined as a year of suspension or greater punishment. No other public sector union has this in their contract.
On top of the arbitrator decision, the cops had another advantage the other city unions don’t have. What they get from arbitration or negotiation with the city lawyers can’t be overturned by a simple majority of the city council. It requires three-fifths of all council members. This is a result of decades of pro-cop mayors.
For decades, the FOP was happy to go before the unelected Police Board for decisions in disciplinary disputes. They got favorable rulings for their members, despite Chicago’s horrendous record of police crimes.
They sought this change from the arbitrator after the historic democratic gains after decades of struggle led by the Black liberation movement. In February, councilors were elected to hold the police accountable in each of the 22 CPD districts. The Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance created this first-in-the-country system for democratic civilian oversight of the cops. In addition, those councilors choose the members of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), tasked with drafting policy and hiring the heads of Chicago Police Department and Police Board, among other powers.
Chicago City Hall packed with protesters
When the protesters came inside, there were dozens more supporters of police accountability lining up to get into the city council chamber. Among those were members and officers of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73. President Dian Palmer led a large number of her members in their trademark purple gear. One of the largest of the public sector unions representing city employees, Local 73 was among the first to support the ECPS legislation. Too many of Local 73’s mostly Black and Latino members have loved ones who had been victims or survivors of police crimes at the hands of racist cops.
In addition, there were hundreds of Palestinian activists led by the US Palestinian Community Network, in attendance to support a resolution, sponsored by Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, to end the genocide. USPCN and other Palestinian organizations had supported the ECPS legislation as well.
Finally, also present were organizations fighting to defend the city’s Sanctuary City status against a Republican-backed effort to overturn an ordinance that has been in place since it was first passed under Mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Centro Sin Fronteras, and Healthy Hood brought out a large number of activists as well.
City council and Mayor Brandon Johnson prevail in lopsided vote
A long debate in the council chambers over the different issues was interrupted repeatedly by protesters, such that the council took a lengthy recess. When the votes were counted, the FOP supporters were crushed: 33-17.
A statement issued by the ECPS coalition explained that the fight isn’t over. The FOP gets to go back to their friendly arbitrator, then back to city council. “We must ensure the city council rejects it again and support the legal fight that ensues.”
Their statement also highlighted that there’s another attack on accountability in the new FOP contract. “One example is the ability for investigations of misconduct to be dropped if they take more than 18 months to conclude. The vast majority of investigations carried out by COPA currently take longer than 18 months.”
In public comment, Husam Marajda of the US Palestinian Community Network, which is also an affiliate of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), spoke during public comment: “The city of Chicago democratically elected a body that is in charge of making decisions and changes to police conduct issues and this is an attempt to undermine it. The FOP and an arbitration clause in their contract are a threat to democracy and go against the people’s demand in the city.” He went on to call for support for Alderwoman Rodriguez’s resolution against the genocide of Palestinians.
Frank Chapman of CAARPR noted that this is the third time the movement has dealt a political setback to the FOP in this calendar year. “We defeated the majority of the candidates they ran for police district council in the February general election; their candidate for mayor, Paul Vallas, lost to Brandon Johnson in the run-off in April, and now this!”