Retired Black Cops Kneel In Protest Against White Union Leadership

Black FOP
About two-dozen Black former cops and community allies protest outside the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 hall on Chicago’s West Side Friday. The union’s white president has said officers who kneel in solidarity with those protesting police violence will face sanctions from the union that is supposed to represent them. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ
Black FOP
About two-dozen Black former cops and community allies protest outside the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 hall on Chicago’s West Side Friday. The union’s white president has said officers who kneel in solidarity with those protesting police violence will face sanctions from the union that is supposed to represent them. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ

Retired Black Cops Kneel In Protest Against White Union Leadership

Some Black Chicago police retirees on Friday mounted a rare public demonstration by cops against the union for the city’s rank-and-file officers, slamming its new president for threatening to expel members who kneel with protesters following George Floyd’s killing by the Minneapolis police and criticizing the union’s resistance to proposals aimed at increasing police accountability.

Friday’s protest, attended by about two-dozen former officers and community allies, took place in the rain in front of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 hall on the Near West Side.

“The dues-paying FOP members of color who dared to show support for the outcry of justice from communities of color have been ostracized and threatened orally and in writing,” said Crystal King-Smith, a recently retired commander who headed the Wentworth patrol district and later the Department’s Force Review Unit.

The protesters, wearing blue T-shirts that read “Retired Chicago police support justice for all,” were joined by African American pastors, who led a reading of the Lord’s Prayer, and by leaders of the NAACP’s West Side branch, who called for removing parts of the Lodge 7 contract with the city that they say protect officers who’ve committed misconduct.

“It’s time for us to do the right thing,” King-Smith said. “We want the community to know that we do care and we feel and share their pain, whether it is a handshake, hug, prayer, nod or take the knee by officers during protests. Our community needs to know that we see and hear them. There is nothing political in these actions. There is nothing written that prohibits these actions. We still continue to uphold the law and our orders, even when we kneel.”

“We will stand up to those in the Fraternal Order of Police and any other organization who seek to destroy the movement ensuring fair and equal justice to communities of color, especially by seeking to silence those officers attempting to right wrongs previously committed, and ensuring the prevention of future abuses,” King-Smith said.

As King-Smith spoke to news media, the FOP leader she was criticizing stood a few feet away.

John Catanzara Jr., elected Lodge 7 president last month, unseated Kevin Graham. Both Catanzara and Graham are staunch supporters of President Donald Trump.

“To sit here and say that this lodge is protecting bad officers all the time, it’s just false,” Catanzara said after the protest. He also defended his threat to bring internal union charges against an officer who allegedly knelt in support of some George Floyd protesters.

“That protest was specifically about defunding and abolishing the Police Department,” Catanzara said. “She knelt during a protest to get rid of her own job.”

A Facebook posting that promoted the protest said it was the “start of a multi-prong approach toward unveiling inequities in the FOP lodge.”

Catanzara agreed the union has work to do on diversity.

“That’s one of the things we ran on in our campaign was trying to diversify this lodge, because it's far too long been male and white,” Catanzara said, saying his slate in the election included two African Americans and that both failed to win enough votes. But Catanzara also tried to shift blame for the lack of diversity in the union’s leadership to the Black cops at the protest.

“Any of these officers out here,” he said, “how many of them ever applied to be on one of the committees that they complain do not have, obviously, racial components and diversity within them?”

Catanzara won that election while relieved of his police powers in a case he says stems from filing a 2018 criminal report on then-police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for marching with anti-violence protesters on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Catanzara made his name among officers in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, when he was reprimanded for a Facebook post showing a photo of himself in his police uniform, holding a placard supporting the president and gun rights.

But the protesters outside the union Friday said they were part of a shake-up.

“We couldn’t control the people that started the looting, but the majority of the people marching were marching because we need to save lives that are being taken away,” said Donna Adams, another retired officer.

“This is the beginning of a new awakening, and we ask everyone to join us as part of the solution,” King-Smith said.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about criminal justice. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.