A group of prominent Chicago ministers, most of them from the West Side, have expressed support for beleaguered Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson. The clergy held a closed-door meeting with Johnson at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave. in Austin on Oct. 23 to discuss the Oct. 9 release of an Inspector General’s report that implicates Johnson in the police cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s 2014 murder.
“This meeting was scheduled shortly after the IG’s report went forward and we had some concerns about the superintendent’s involvement in the Laquan McDonald shooting,” said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John and co-chairman of the Leaders Network, a faith-based social justice organization based on the West Side.
“This meeting was very helpful to me,” Acree said during a press conference held in the church’s foyer shortly after the meeting. “We heard him come to the community. I commend him for that. He came out here and basically gave us his side of the story.”
In 2015, according to Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s report, Johnson — who was a deputy chief at the time — met with other top brass who reviewed the shooting and determined that “16 shots was justified,” a lieutenant who was present at the meeting told the IG.
During the press conference on Oct. 23, Johnson said that the IG’s report “is not true” and that he had “no role at all” in the police cover-up of McDonald’s murder.
“[The Inspector General] said he interviewed everybody who had a role in the shooting,” Johnson said. “I was never interviewed and the reason why I was never interviewed is because I didn’t have a role in it. All the decision-making that went on went on prior to me seeing [the video of McDonald’s murder].”
Johnson added that the public should judge him based on what he’s done since becoming police chief in 2016.
“When I became superintendent, I think there were 10 or 11 officers presented to me for termination and I recommended termination for all but one,” Johnson said. “And now, with me being superintendent, when we do shooting reviews, we never talk about what is or isn’t justified. That’s the job of COPA [the Civilian Office of Police Accountability].”
Johnson’s version of events were sufficient for the clergy in attendance to vouchsafe for the superintendent during the press conference.
“I have great respect for Joe Ferguson and I’m sure the explanation we heard today is a minor part of his report [the part that has to do with Eddie Johnson],” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, the pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in East Garfield Park.
“I think we’ve been satisfied so far with the superintendent’s explanation,” Hatch said. “We’ve challenged him to go out in the community and make known that he was not part of a cover-up — point blank. We want to make sure this department moves forward and we want to be assured that the superintendent is part of the solution and not the problem.”
Bishop Larry D. Trotter, pastor of the Sweet Holy Spirit Church on the South Side, echoed Hatch and Acree.
“What we heard today [from Johnson], if that was spoken to the people in our congregation, particularly young people and seniors, it would make them support the police department and their decisions a little more regularly,” Trotter said. “I don’t believe this superintendent has had a chance to speak to the masses about what he really believes and really feels, because if what he says is true we really have a hero and not somebody who has failed.”
Trotter said that the clergy are planning to host Johnson on the South and West Sides so that he can tell his side of the story. Johnson, who has recently been under siege from multiple angles, will need all the community support the can muster.
In addition to the IG’s report, Johnson is also dealing with the fallout of two other well-known incidents.
On Oct. 17, Johnson’s own officers discovered him asleep behind the wheel of his car, an incident that prompted the superintendent himself to call for an internal investigation on the matter. And on Oct. 23, the Fraternal Order of Police union issued a vote of no-confidence in Johnson following the superintendent’s refusal to attend President Donald Trump’s McCormick Place address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police on Oct. 28.
“This department has to be reformed from top to bottom,” said Hatch. “We do come away understanding the enormous pressure that Supt. Johnson has to be under as an African American superintendent over this department. And so, is there a little sympathy on his behalf given that? Yes.
“We want him to be successful. We want any superintendent to be successful and success to us means that this department is radically reformed and has a much better relationship with the community than it has now.”