Video: The fatal shooting of Chicago police Officer Ella French sets off a host of behind-the-scenes fights. Amanda Vinicky, Heather Cherone and Matt Masterson weigh in on that and more in this week’s edition of Spotlight Politics. (Produced by Alex Silets)
The breach between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Police Department exposed by the fatal shooting of Officer Ella French widened Wednesday, as the mayor defended the decision by the department’s second-highest ranking officer to cut short a ritual outside the medical examiner’s office meant to honor the fallen officer.
First Deputy Police Superintendent Eric Carter was right to cut off an honor guard and bagpipe salute that has served as part of the Chicago Police Department’s ritual of mourning when a fellow officer has been killed in the line of duty, Lightfoot said.
“I support what he did,” Lightfoot said after detailing a projected $733 million budget shortfall in 2022.
Officers and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara were incensed when Carter’s voice was heard over the scanner directing that French’s body be taken directly inside the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“We don’t have 20 minutes for this s---,” Carter said, according to transmissions. “We’re not waiting on the bagpipes. Go ahead and get the vehicle inside. Take it all the way inside. Do not stop.”
Carter was following rules designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 imposed by the Cook County medical examiner and wanted to ensure that French’s family was not delayed, Lightfoot said.
French was fatally shot and her partner was critically wounded during a traffic stop in West Englewood on Saturday night. Two Chicago men have been charged with murder in connection with the shooting and a third man faces federal charges for allegedly acting as a straw purchaser to buy the gun used in the shooting.
“There was no official honor guard that night,” Lightfoot said. “There was — let me choose my words carefully — well-meaning but not well-organized group that wanted to hijack the procession, which would have meant that the family would have been delayed exponentially in getting to the morgue.”
“Given the new restrictions that the new coroner has put in place, that wouldn’t have been fair to them,” Lightfoot said. “Eric Carter made the right call. I support what he did. And I’m horrified that, in this moment, people are trying to savage him for whatever agenda or purpose.”
Carter was in charge after French’s death since Chicago police Superintendent David Brown was in Dallas after the death of his mother.
However, a spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said Wednesday that it has not imposed any new rules on processions designed to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
“First responders have always gathered in the office parking lot and dock to pay respects to fallen police officers and firefighters,” according to the statement. “At no time did personnel from the Medical Examiner’s Office try to impede officers or bagpipers.”
Lightfoot vehemently defended Carter as an “incredible public servant” and a “dedicated veteran” and blasted the news media for vilifying him.
“What people don’t like is that he wasn’t part of the friends-and-family program,” Lightfoot said. “He did his job and came up through the ranks and worked his tail off and now he’s the first deputy.”
Lightfoot appeared to struggle to control her temper Wednesday when she was asked about her exchange Saturday night with the wounded officer’s father, a retired Chicago police officer. He confronted the mayor and blamed her for his son’s critical injuries.
After that exchange, a group of officers turned their backs on the mayor.
In a statement released Monday, the mayor’s office acknowledged that emotions were running high after French’s death.
“In a time of tragedy, emotions run high and that is to be expected,” according to the statement. “The mayor spoke to a range of officers that tragic night and sensed the overwhelming sentiment was about concern for their fallen colleagues.”
Lightfoot declined to discuss what happened during her exchange with the wounded officer’s father. The injured officer has made some progress in his recovery, she said.
“I’m not gonna respond to that,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t force my way anywhere. And that’s offensive, frankly, that you would ask me that question. It really does a disservice to the moment that we’re in.”
Lightfoot criticized reporters for focusing the spotlight on the confrontation at the hospital.
“Come on. Give me a break. What else are you gonna mine from the bottom of the chum barrel?” Lightfoot asked. “You’re better than that. You’re better than that. You’re better than that.”
During her speech about the 2022 budget, Lightfoot called for an end to the deeply divisive and intensely personal debate over the proper role of the police in Chicago, saying it does nothing to address the fundamental problems confronting Chicago.
“Stop,” Lightfoot said. “All of you. All of us. Just stop.”
Chicagoans must stop using social media to spew hate, Lightfoot said.
“This is a larger question than what may have happened with 10 or 15 officers Saturday night,” Lightfoot said. “Why do we think it is OK for people to engage in such nasty, officious talk orally or worse on social media, then have it repeated by media as if it is fact and true? The media plays a very important role in our democracy. But you lose me when it’s a race to the bottom, and it’s all about the fight and it’s all about the conflict.”
The widening divide between Lightfoot and the Chicago Police Department comes as rank-and-file officers consider approving an eight-year contract.
The department is also under increasing pressure to implement reforms ordered by a federal judge after a 2017 probe found the police department routinely violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.
In addition, a new board will oversee the police department — a move opposed by the police union and condemned as anti-police.
Lightfoot faces a similar amount of pressure from the other side of the political spectrum, with progressive and socialist members of the Chicago City Council demanding that the budget for the police department be reduced and its role in the city reimagined.
In her 2019 campaign for mayor, Lightfoot — a former federal prosecutor who led the Chicago Police Board — vowed to reform the Chicago Police Department, while reducing crime across the city.