CHICAGO – Two cops in uniform decided it was appropriate to kneel with an activist when asked to do show.
Over the weekend, Aleta Clark, an anti-violence activist in Chicago, walked into two police stations and asked the officers inside to kneel with her for a photo.
In the first station, the officers said no. In the second station, on Chicago’s South Side, they said yes, reported the New York Times.
“That Moment when you walk into the police station and ask the Men of Color are they Against Police Brutality and Racism & they say Yes…” Clark wrote on Instagram. “Then you ask them if they support Colin Kapernick (sic) … and they also say yes… then you ask them to Kneel.!
By Tuesday evening the photo had made several news outlets, including the front page of The Chicago Sun-Times. As a result, the officers were disciplined for violating Chicago Police Department policy.
Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the department, said the officers — whom he would not name — had been reprimanded and given “retraining on applicable policies concerning conduct while on duty and in uniform.” Specifically, Rule 42 in the department’s conduct guide prohibits uniformed officers from “participating in any partisan political campaign or activity.”
In television interview clips that she posted on Instagram, Clark praised the officers for kneeling despite the risk to their jobs.
“This is my message to those officers: I stand behind you,” she said. “I’m going to get other people to stand behind you. Anybody watching this should stand behind you because you stood for us. You showed us that even with the shield, even working for the Police Department, that you are still human, and that you still recognize that racism still exists and that police brutality is real. And you stood against that.”
In an email, Guglielmi said the punishment was consistent with “other cases in which officers engaged in potential political activity while on duty and in uniform.” One example given from earlier in the year was an officer reprimanded for displaying a “Make America Great Again” hat in a squad car, he said.
“Police officers must serve and protect people on both sides of any given issue,” Mr. Guglielmi said. “They can’t effectively do that if they are perceived to take one side over another. So when officers are on duty and wearing the uniform, there are no sides, just service to anyone who needs them.”
Asked whether that meant the officers who posed with Ms. Clark would not have been reprimanded if they had taken the photo while off duty and out of uniform, he said, “Absolutely.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters on Tuesday that he supported the decision to reprimand the officers. Moreover, he indicated the police department’s policy was consistent. Yet he acknowledged that the officers “were somewhat betwixt, between two different aspirations”—the desire to follow department rules and the desire to improve relations between the police and the public, The Sun-Times reported.
In their photo, Clark and the two officers paired kneeling with another symbol of protest, made famous by the American track athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics—raised fists and, from Clark, a downward gaze.
“I’m not going to say anything that is going to get those officers in trouble,” Clark told a television interviewer when asked whether the officers had expressed any awareness that what they were doing was against the rules. “I think that picture speaks volumes, and I think it was enough.”