Renault Robinson, co-founder of the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League who served in various roles under Mayor Jane Byrne and Mayor Harold Washington, died on July 8 at age 80, according to his wife of 60 years, Annette Robinson.
Renault Robinson, a lifelong South Sider, was one of very few Black police officers on the force when he joined in 1964. Four years later, he and fellow officer Edward “Buzz” Palmer founded the AAPL with a goal of improving relations in both the police force and the Black community as well as among the officers themselves.
Annette Robinson recalled that her husband and his family were soon the subject of harassment from other officers as a result of the league’s formation.
“It was challenging — traffic stops and stuff like that,” Annette Robinson said. “But he managed to maintain his composure. He was more quelling things before they escalated. He wanted to maintain the decency and respect for the Black men and women in the community.”
Renault Robinson was arrested and charged with drunken driving under the influence, failure to provide a driver’s license, failure to indicate lane change and failure to display a city sticker, according to a 1969 Chicago Tribune account. Robinson maintained he was innocent of all charges and that the arrest was part of a campaign of harassment against him by CPD officers. His arrest, and subsequent suspension, kickstarted a probe into Chicago Police Department practices.
In 1972, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Robinson’s claims of harassment. In 1974, Robinson and the DOJ filed a lawsuit charging the Chicago Police Department for discrimination against non-White officers and women in the testing process. A federal judge ruled that the CPD did in fact discriminate against those groups.
Robinson was the subject of a 1977 book, “The Man Who Beat Clout City” by Robert McClory.
In 1979, Robinson served a nonpaying term on the board of the Chicago Housing Authority under Byrne. Under Washington, he was named chairman of the CHA, where he served until 1987.
Before retiring in 2018, Robinson worked in the staffing and building maintenance industries.
Robinson is survived by his wife; four sons, Renault Jr., Brian, Kobie and Kivu; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His son Kivu is in the early phases of producing a documentary about his father’s life.
A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 25, at St. Sabina Catholic Church, 1210 W. 78th Place in Chicago.
Note: This article was published July 13 and updated with video July 14.