Chicago Police

‘I Wouldn't Take it Back:' Chicago Police Union's New President Stands by Controversial Actions

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Members of Chicago's police union on Friday elected a new president who is known for his outspoken criticisms of the department and has a long history of controversy.

John Catanzara defeated incumbent Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7 President Kevin Graham in a runoff election, the union said Friday. Catanzara won with about 55% of the vote, earning 4,709 votes to Graham's 3,872 in the contest held after neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the initial election in March.

Catanzara first came to prominence when he posted a photo to social media in support of President Donald Trump's criticisms of pro football players, including Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the National Anthem.

“I wouldn’t take it back for a thing. I stand by what I did," he said.

Cantanzara was suspended for the photo. The Chicago Police Department’s code of conduct does not allow officers to participate "in any partisan political campaign or activity."

Catanzara is currently relieved of his police powers and under investigation by the department on allegations related to a 2018 police report he filed against then-police Supt Eddie Johnson. Catanzara accused Johnson of breaking the law by allowing marchers onto the Dan Ryan Expressway during the summer of 2018 to protest city violence.

“This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ tale. These are fights I have willingly picked and chosen myself and taken on because I believe in calling out hypocrisy. It’s rife within the police department," he said.

He is also opposed to the state’s ongoing stay-at-home order, saying he doesn’t want officers to enforce the order by threatening citations to those who are violating it.

“This is not some eastern European country,” he said. “I understand the dynamic, but there has to be a fine line and a balance figured out. Martial law has not been imposed.”

A 25-year veteran of the force, Catanzara has had dozens of complaints filed against him in his career. He has also been suspended multiple times and two Chicago police superintendents have independently tried to fire him, according to multiple reports.

The first attempt at firing Catanzara came in 2008, when then-Supt. Jody Weis alleged he did not follow orders to complete a psychological exam, according to the Chicago Tribune. But the Chicago Police Board ultimately ruled in his favor, restoring him to his position.

Three years later, according to the Tribune, then-Supt. Garry McCarthy tried to fire Catanzara for picking up a side job as a restaurant security guard while on medical leave for a back injury. The board found he was guilty of several violations in that case, according to the Tribune, but voted to suspend him rather than fire him.

A single photo has set off a whirlwind controversy this week. It shows Chicago police officer John Catanzara holding an American flag–beside a sign that says “I stand for the anthem.” Trina Orlando reports.

Other posts appearing on Catanzara’s page feature inflammatory language about Muslims, plus criticisms of protesters, state and local government, as well as former President Barack Obama.

Posts of that nature appear to violate the department's policy on personal social media use, which prohibits members from sharing "communications that discredit or reflect poorly on the Department, its missions or goals," as well as "content that is disparaging to a person or group based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected class."

Catanzara will lead the union amid contract negotiations and as CPD continues to implement court-supervised reforms based on a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report found a history of civil rights violations within the department it investigated in the wake of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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