WICKER PARK — Two aldermen are facing backlash after recent social media posts from their staffers were critical of police, with residents saying the posts are worrisome as the wards face a spike in violent crime.
The issue involved Facebook and Twitter posts from the chief of staff of Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) and an aide for Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st). The posts are from July and August, but they stirred controversy among some neighbors last week.
Ashley Galvan Ramos, a constituent services liaison in La Spata’s office, referred to police officers as “pigs” in a July 18 tweet in the aftermath of violent clashes between officers and protesters near the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park.
“The aggression and brutality on YOUTH last night was a direct attack on YOUTH,” Ramos tweeted. “Lori Lightfoot and her wife wanted to create a networking group for YOUTH to ‘stay off the streets’ but can’t even call her pigs out? She can’t even see wtf she’s doing wrong.”
On Aug. 24, Vicko Alvarez, Rodriguez’s chief of staff, shared a Sun-Times article on Facebook and wrote “Defund and abolish. You can get it done through hearings at City Hall or the people will get it done on the streets by fire.”
The Sun-Times article she shared included an image of people standing in front of a building and truck on fire.
The post shared with Block Club was cropped and did not show that the image was part of a Sun-Times article.
Ramos did not respond to requests for comment.
Though rumors spread on social media that Rodriguez fired Alvarez over the post, the alderman said she has no intention of firing the staffer. Rodriguez said her office received threats after the controversial post.
Rodriguez said her office has been dealing with backlash from Alvarez’s Facebook post for weeks, with union leadership of the Chicago Fire Department suggesting its members to call her office to complain.
La Spata’s spokesman Joshua Smyser-DeLeon would not say if Ramos would face discipline, saying what employees post on their personal accounts is protected by the First Amendment.
Some residents said the posts unsettled them, though they do not want the staff members fired.
Both wards are grappling with spikes in violent crime, and neighbors said they are worried how the posts could affect working relationships between the aldermen and their police districts. The issue has compounded lingering frustrations some neighbors have with the aldermen over their communication about crime and willingness to collaborate with police.
“Why would the officers want to work with him? It’s a disadvantage to the people who live in his ward,” said Leah Root, a Wicker Park neighborhood leader. “The officers are already beat down, then you have someone in the alderman’s office calling them ‘pigs’?”
La Spata and Rodriguez have supported cutting funding to the police department and investing in science-based anti-violence measures and backed youth-led efforts to remove officers from public high schools.
‘It Doesn’t Look Right’
When Ramos shared her tweet, which criticized police’s use of force against young people, the Police Department and Mayor Lori Lightfoot were facing widespread criticism after officers clashed with protesters while protecting the Columbus statue in Grant Park.
“What staff post on their personal accounts outside of work hours is protected by the First Amendment,” Smyser-DeLeon said of Ramos’ comments. “Additionally, interactions with police districts and police officers are not within the scope of work for the staff member in question. As an office, we pursue consistent, respectful and productive relationships with our local districts while pushing for reform and accountability citywide.”
Root said she did not think Ramos should be fired but she worried about the impression her tweet leaves.
“It doesn’t look right when our alderman’s office that’s supposed to be representing neighbors is calling police officers who protect us, ‘pigs,’” Root said. “I don’t know how he’s gonna have a successful, safe ward when he’s at odds with police officers.”
The Facebook post from Alvarez, which calls for for the defunding of police through officials channels lest the people “get it done on the streets by fire,” came at a time when Albany Park and Ravenswood Manor neighbors have been shaken by a surge in shootings. They have pressed Rodriguez for more police resources to curb the violence.
“This just seems so inappropriate,” Albany Park resident Floyd Dillman said. He sent Block Club a screenshot of Alvarez’s post Monday. He said if an officer were caught bashing protesters on social media they would likely be punished or fired, though officers are rarely punished for offensive social media posts historically.
Heather Sullivan, a Ravenswood Manor neighbor, confronted Rodriguez about Alvarez’s post during a meeting last week about the uptick in shootings in the ward.
Sullivan told the alderman the post was “disheartening” and “doesn’t give us a huge vote of confidence” when neighbors want Rodriguez to work with police and pursue long-term alternative community safety strategies.
Rodriguez said the post was Alvarez’s personal opinion and not an official message from the 33rd Ward office.
“I think that that message had a lot to do with rage felt after the shooting of Jacob Blake. I think a lot of people were really angry,” Rodriguez said Monday.
Rodriguez said she spoke to Alvarez about the post and explained how it was “very inflammatory.” She said Alvarez agreed to not share things like that on her personal social media moving forward.
“But I did want to put this into context,” Rodriguez said. “I’m sure many of you are familiar with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. about how the riots are the language of the unheard. That was the spirit of that post. But she recognizes now that it was inflammatory.”
Rodriguez told Block Club she contacted the city’s Inspector General’s Office, which investigates potential ethical violations, and was told there was nothing illegal or unethical about what Alvarez posted.
She said Alvarez “understands that, that was not the right languages to use.”
‘The Neighborhood Is On Edge’
Social media aside, neighbors have complained about how their aldermen have responded — or not responded — to public safety issues.
As shootings mounted in the Albany Park police district, neighbors said they were concerned Rodriguez was rebuffing their demands for more police, though she’s hosted many meetings in recent weeks to address the violence.
In Wicker Park and Bucktown, some neighbors are concerned the 14th District has been without a permanent police commander for months.
Overall, most crime in the Wicker Park neighborhood is down, but neighbors are worried about recent armed carjackings and arson, as well as looting from this summer. Most recently, the killing of Wicker Park Walgreens employee Olga Calderon rattled residents.
La Spata has told Block Club previously he speaks with the 14th District on a weekly basis and has a productive relationship with its leaders.
But publicly, La Spata appears to be “silent” on public safety issues, Root said. La Spata has not had a town hall or public event following the killing of Calderon, Root said.
Wicker Park neighbor John Plant said he hoped La Spata would respond to mounting tensions by talking to residents.
“The neighborhood is on edge,” Plant said. “Now more than ever, we need a unified effort and trust between city officials including the alderman’s office, CPD, as well as community leaders to address these concerns and make the ward safe for all its residents.”
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