By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Eddie Johnson’s appointment as Chicago interim police superintendent drew mixed reaction after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s announcement on March 28. While leaders praise Johnson as a qualified appointment, activists say the mayor should have chosen a candidate who has no ties to a department that has a history of police brutality and corruption.
Cedric Alexander, public safety director in Georgia’s DeKalb County and an African American, was one of three finalists on the Chicago Police Board.
Alexander claimed the mayor told him he was going to be the top cop while Eddie Johnson would serve as first deputy. Emanuel denied Alexander’s claims, and has angered some leaders when he bypassed his board’s final list and chose Johnson.
The board’s other finalists were: Eugene Williams, a 36-year CPD veteran and deputy chief for the CPD, and outsider, Anne Kirkpatrick, a white chief of police in Spokane, WA.
Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board, held several townhall meetings during the public selection process. “We’ll be meeting as a board as soon as we’re able to decide appropriate next steps. The board has to take the time necessary to make the best decision possible given the importance of this issue for our city,” she stated.
If Johnson wants the job permanently, he must go through the official process of applying for it. The mayor chose Johnson who had not applied for the job; however, retired police officer Richard Wooten said while he did not like the violation of the selection process, Johnson is the right man for the job
“He has the ability to build morale within the department. He is and always has been the right choice since the firing of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy,” said Wooten, a 23-year CPD veteran.
A number of community leaders voiced support for Johnson, including City Council Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), who joined Hispanic City Council Chair-
man Ald. George Cardenas (12th) in support of Johnson. Father Michael L. Pfleger also said he is a strong supporter of Johnson.
“I am very supportive of the choice of Eddie Johnson because I have worked with him since he was the commander of the 6th District. He is a quiet man with strength,” said Pfleger.
“He is a good man and a great listener. I think he has the ability to lead in this crucial time, but let’s face it, the task is monumental. He has to come up with a new strategy for violence because obviously the present one isn’t working,” added Pfleger.
But Brandon Smith, the independent journalist who exposed the Laquan McDonald tape, views the Johnson selection with a jaundice eye. “The patrol officers are not in a great state. They are not well-trusted or respected in the city right now.”
Smith said while the mayor believes choosing Johnson “is a move for reform,” he wants to ask him how. “There is some data on Mr. Johnson’s performance. He presided over the NATO protesters, and it was widely panned as an act of policing around the country.
“I’m all for local solutions to local problems, but you can’t solve a local problem with part of the problem. We’ve got to figure out what Mr. Johnson has done and what he will promise to actually do in the future….I don’t know enough about him,” Smith said.
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and Pastor Ira Acree from the Greater St. John Bible Church accused Emanuel of violating his own process.
Jackson said Johnson “might be a great pick to lead Chicago’s troubled police department, but the process in which he was selected undermines the product.” By circumventing the long-established procedure for picking the city’s top cop, Jackson said the mayor has loaded Chief Johnson down with baggage that reeks of backroom deals.
“Following the righteous uproar in the streets last November over the withholding of the video” showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Jackson said the mayor “solemnly promised transparency going forward. This is the opposite of transparency.”
Jackson went on to say the police board’s search for a candidate “was a vast misuse of their time,” and that selecting a new top cop is just one step towards transformation. He said there needs to be a new Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) contract and rules of discipline and the releasing of more video tapes.
“It’s not the cops who are the problem. It’s the culture; the culture of FOP control, the culture of cover-up, the culture of withholding tapes.” Jackson added there is the unfinished business of dealing with the officers who falsified their reports on the McDonald case that contradicted what is shown on the video.
Acree was also upset over how the mayor chose Johnson.
“It proves that Rahm does whatever he wants to do and that rules, processes and laws are for everyone else to adhere to.” Saying he has nothing personal against Johnson, Acree added, “I don’t know enough about his credentials to judge him as a candidate, but the manner in which this mayor chose the superintendent subverted the process of one of our most important institutions.”
Angered that the mayor aborted the board’s procedure, Acree said, “He shoved his choice down everyone’s throat. The aldermen and the police board should be embarrassed because in essence his choice says to them, ‘checkmate’.”
Acree believes the police board should all resign in protest or choose three new candidates, excluding Johnson. “Rahm Emanuel has blown it again. The mayor just can’t seem to get anything right these days. Emanuel just doesn’t seem to have the temperament that’s needed to lead us out of this horrific season of police corruption and culture of cover up.”
But Johnson believes he is the right choice and says high on his agenda is to end the gun violence and to restore the trust between the police department and the community.
Promising to reduce gun violence and improve the shattered relationship between the community and the police department, Johnson—who began as a beat cop and worked his way up the career ladder—expressed confidence in the appointment. He said he can “hit the ground running” because he’s familiar with the department.
In accepting the appointment, Johnson, a popular cop who is a father and grew up in Cabrini Green and later moved to the Washington Heights community, said he understands that the trust between the community and the police department is at its lowest point. “Countless incidents of courage and professionalism far outweigh the few examples of excessive force.
“Nevertheless, these incidents— no matter how isolated—undermine our entire department and our relationship with the community,” Johnson said. “We have to own it, and we have to end it. I know that trust won’t be restored overnight. It has to be earned every day in both routine as well as high-pressure situations.”
On March 28, Johnson promoted Fred L. Waller, who is currently the deputy chief of CPD’s Area South to Chief of Patrol. He also promoted Kevin B. Navarro, current commander of CPD’s Area South Detective Division, to Deputy Chief of Area South. First Deputy Supt. John Escalante will resume his responsibilities as second-in-command of the Department.
All appointments were effective on March 28.