The annual National Police Week honoring fallen officers is normally held in May, but this year’s observance was moved to Oct. 14-16 due to the pandemic.
Among the 264 cops who are being memorialized are four Chicago police officers who died from the virus. And that makes it all the more shocking that the Chicago police union chose the day before the COVID-delayed police week to post a guide to “COVID-19 Exemption Forms.”
The site also has a link to a “Vaccine Mandate Update 10/12/21” video in which union president John Catanzara announced his determination not to comply.
“Hold the line,” he said.
Never mind that the shot offers the surest safeguard against suffering the fate of Sgt. Clifford Martin, Police Officer Marcus Di Franco, Police Officer Ronald Newman, and Police Officer Titus Moore in Chicago. Them, and 141 other cops killed by the virus across the nation.
Fallen cops are honored at police week because they made the supreme sacrifice for the sake of others. Officers who chose not to get the vaccine may still protect us from criminals, but they endanger everyone they encounter, including their loved ones.
“If I was on patrol, I’d be very concerned about infecting my family,” said a former senior Chicago police official. “So I don’t get it.”
On top of shamelessly coaching vaccine avoidance on police week, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7 website announced the upcoming services for former union president Dean Angelo, who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday after being in intensive care since Sept. 26.
The current union president, Catanzara, has not let any of that stop him from vowing to defy Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mandate that all city employees must declare their vaccine status by Friday or be put on no-pay status.
“We’re in America, goddamn it,” he said back in August when Lightfoot announced the Oct. 15 deadline. “We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi fuckng Germany [where they say], ‘Step into the fucking showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the fuck?”
The union goes along with other safety mandates without objection. Department Uniform and Property Directive U02-2 requires them to wear a seatbelt when driving. And Directive U06-01-30 dictates even the fitting and labeling of their bullet-resistant vests.
“Each Department member will be individually measured by the manufacturer or a representative approved by the manufacturer to ensure proper fit or armor specific to the individual… Every ballistic panel cover shall have a label. The label shall be permanently attached to the face of the panel. The label shall contain the following information in English: Name, logo, or other identifying information of the manufacturer or listed company.”
But when it comes to his members taking the minimal risk involved in performing a basic civic duty for all of us in this pandemic, Catanzara is threatening to leave the city with thousands fewer cops when those it has are not enough to prevent it from being a war zone. There have been 639 murders and 2,866 shootings so far this year, up slightly from the same period in 2020. More than 50 kids under 18 have been shot to death and more than 275 wounded.
Lightfoot is pledging not to back down, and it seems distinctly personal on both sides.
“They’re having a ‘who has the biggest cock’ contest,” said the former senior police official.
Lightfoot is undeniably right about the importance of vaccine, but officers view her as anti-cop and are understandably dubious when she insists she is thinking of them and the well-being of their families as well as the rest of the city. Chicago’s cops are given continuing reason to believe the whole system is indifferent to their safety and that of the public. They have made more than 4,000 gun collars this year and too often see the suspects back in the street. They have arrested 47 people for gun violence this year who were free despite pending felony charges.
But the loss of four fellow officers to COVID proves that the virus is also a mortal threat; dead is dead, be it by bullet or virus. And the cops of Chicago deserve a better champion than Catanzara. Records available online show he has a long history of disciplinary problems in the department. The records further show that he faced dismissal in 2012 on charges that he was working private security while supposedly on medical leave due to a back injury. He got off with a suspension, one of seven in his career, tying a current record in a department where such sanctions are rare.
Catanzara received an added reprimand in 2017, when he responded online to a social media photo of two Black Chicago cops kneeling with their fist raised. Catanzara, who is White, posted a picture of himself standing in uniform beside his patrol car with a sign reading “I stand for the anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president and the 2nd amendment."
That—and kudos he received for having built a memorial koi pond at a high school in memory of a fallen officer—no doubt helped him win a runoff in last year’s election for union president.
On the eve of Police Week, Catanzara posted the video of himself telling the members they could find three different vaccine exemption forms on the union site: religious, medical, and “conscientious.” He advised everybody to hold off submitting them until Thursday and then submit them all at once.
“Give them everything at one time and that’s it,” he said.
He reported that after midnight Thursday, the city will stop paying any cops who have not declared their vaccine status. He said he will be forgoing his own check. He added that he did not think the city could go more than a week if it had half its police force.
“It is the city’s clear attempt to force officers with a ‘chicken little, the sky is falling,’ into compliance. Do not fall for it,” he said. “Do not fall for it.”
He absolved himself and his members of the added mayhem that would surely result.
“Whatever happened because of that manpower issue, that falls on the mayor’s doorstep,” he said.
But it will be gunshot kids who fall bleeding to the pavement. And those are cops who could have prevented it but were not out there because they did not want to get an FDA-approved vaccine that is no more an affront to their God-given freedom than immunizations that school kids are required to get. Cops routinely ticket people for not complying with such safety mandates as seatbelts and red lights.
And in Washington, four police officers who contracted the virus out in the street before they even had a chance at getting the vaccine are being honored. Them along with so many others who died from the virus and other dangers while serving as our protectors in this time of COVID.