CHICAGO — Thirteen Chicago police officers were caught on video relaxing in the South Side office of Rep. Bobby L. Rush without his knowledge two weekends ago as looting took place outside the door during protests over George Floyd’s death, Rush said.
At a news conference Thursday, the Democratic congressman said he had already delivered the security footage to Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) and the head of police. The footage shows officers sleeping, lounging on a sofa and talking on their cellphones during the same overnight hours when looting and violence were taking place at the outdoor mall where Rush’s office is located.
“They even had the unmitigated gall to go and make coffee for themselves and pop some popcorn, my popcorn, in my microwave while looters were tearing apart businesses within their sight, within their reach. And they were in a mood of relaxation, and they did not care about what was happening to the businesspeople in this city,” Rush said. “They didn’t care. They absolutely didn’t care.”
Three of the officers were in white shirts, indicating their higher rank.
Lightfoot joined Rush at the lectern to publicly apologize for how Rush’s office, at 5401 S. Wentworth Ave., was “treated with such profound disrespect” between May 31 and June 1.
“That’s a personal embarrassment to me,” she said.
Lightfoot vowed to identify the officers and punish them for what she called a “deplorable lack of responsibility to do their job at time when city and fellow officers needed them most.” Their conduct confirmed the perception “that police don’t care if black and brown communities were looted and burned,” she said.
Though the incident took place nearly two weeks ago, Rush said he waited to share the footage until this week because his family was mourning the recent death of his younger sister.
The congressman recounted how he got a call in the early hours of June 1 informing him that the office had been burglarized. Soon after, he watched the video of the officers. He told a city alderman about what happened, and she contacted to the mayor on his behalf.
According to Lightfoot, someone had already broken into the congressman’s office that night; officers on the scene entered later and stayed there for at least five hours.
Lightfoot drew a parallel between the officers’ actions, the looting in the area and the killing of Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. They were all examples of injustice, she said.
“And it really is the height of injustice when police are deployed, given a mission, and they fail to act. That too is injustice,” she said. “Public safety cannot be a commodity that is only available to the wealthy and connected. Public safety must be a reality, everywhere, everywhere, in every neighborhood of our city.”
Many South Side leaders accused Lightfoot of leaving the poorest areas vulnerable to looters last week while the National Guard was enlisted to protect the downtown business district. Lightfoot has dismissed those accusations, saying the Guard’s role allowed the police department to put more resources into the community.
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Rush, who has served in Congress since 1993, has butted heads with Lightfoot in the past on matters involving law enforcement. During Lightfoot’s mayoral campaign last year, he accused her of protecting officers who use excessive force, saying her supporters would have “the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police” on their hands. He later apologized for the remark.
On Thursday, Rush voiced support for the mayor, saying she was “committed to the well-being of all of Chicagoans, bar none.”
“I am absolutely amazed at her response, how she takes it personally that these police officers — while on duty, in uniform, white shirts involved — how they took such a lackadaisical attitude, a noncaring attitude, violating my personal space while looting was occurring all around them,” he said.
Police Superintendent David Brown pledged to take action against the officers involved.
“We will be accountable to the Chicagoans that deserve a department they can be proud of. This conduct is not representative,” Brown said. “If you sleep during a riot, what are you doing during a regular shift when there’s no riot?”
Lightfoot said she planned to work with state lawmakers on a proposal to require all Chicago police officers to be licensed, which she said would lead to greater accountability. She plans to bring up the matter at next Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“It’s time. Actually, it’s way past time for this change in our state,” she said. “And licensing is just one of several new measures that we must institute to make individual officers and departments far more accountable to the people.”
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