CHICAGO — A majority of City Council is calling on the controversial president of Chicago’s largest police union to resign after he defended rioters who stormed the Capitol last week.
John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, told WBEZ Wednesday that Trump supporters who participated in the riot were “a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way.”
The chaos led to the deaths of at least five people, including a Capitol police officer. The nation’s top lawmakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, were forced to hide and shelter for hours while rioters chanted they should be killed. Bombs were found at the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic parties.
During the WBEZ interview, Catanzara downplayed that violence, which came as legislators were attempting to certify the results of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. But after heavy criticism and a rebuke from the National Fraternal Order of Police, he apologized in an email to union members.
Now, a resolution signed by 35 aldermen and City Clerk Anna Valencia is calling on Catanzara to resign as president. If he fails to do so, the resolution calls on the union’s Board of Directors to request his resignation.
The resolution states the union’s bylaws bar “any person who is a member of, or subscribes to, or supports the principles of any organization having as its purpose the overthrow of the United States by force or violence.”
The resolution says “absent any such resignation,” the Chicago Police Department should launch an investigation into Catanzara’s actions.
When Catanzara — elected in May to represent 12,000 sworn police officers and thousands of retirees — made the comments, countless videos had already surfaced of the rioters breaking into the building, stealing and vandalizing, fighting with police officers and posing for pictures in offices and the floor of the Senate.
“If the worst crime here is trespassing, so be it. But to call these people treasonous is beyond ridiculous and ignorant,” Catanzara said during the interview.
“There was no arson, there was no burning of anything, there was no looting, there was very little destruction of property.
“Evidence matters. Until that appears, shame on them for what they did, but it was out of frustration. There’s no fights. There’s no, obviously, violence in this crowd. They pushed past security and made their way to the Senate chamber. Did they destroy anything when they were there? No.”
Later, officials announced Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick — who had been hit in the head with a fire extinguisher — had died. A second police officer on duty that day killed himself Saturday.
On Friday, Catanzara apologized for his comments in a message on the union’s Facebook page.
“As your President, I showed a lapse in judgement yesterday during an interview. For that I am sorry,” Catanzara wrote. “I brought negative attention to our Lodge, the FOP family and law enforcement in general. I was in no way condoning the violence in DC yesterday. My statements were poorly worded. I certainly would never justify any attacks on citizens, democracy or law enforcement. After seeing more video and the full aftermath, my comments would have been different.”
Catanzara’s apology also asked members of the union to consider the “totality” of his comments to WBEZ, saying he called on Trump to “formally concede the race to put everything to bed once and for all.”
No such comments appear in WBEZ’s story. Catanzara told the radio station Trump “deserves some responsibility in this” and he “could have handled this whole situation quite differently,” but he also echoed Trump’s false claims the election was fraudulent, according to the report.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot — a frequent critic of Catanzara — called on the union president to “exit, stage left” in a Twitter post on her personal account on Friday.
“Unfortunately, many people across this country believe he represents our city and CPD. He does not speak for either,” Lightfoot wrote. “He has forfeited the moral authority and legitimacy all leaders require, particularly in law enforcement. John Catanzara, no fake apologies. Exit, stage left.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx also criticized Catanzara’s statements to WBEZ.
As of Sunday evening, 35 aldermen and Valencia signed the resolution.
“The residents of Chicago deserve to have faith in their police force, and the sworn officers of Chicago deserve union representation by leadership who reflect their highest ideals and strictest fealty to the Constitution and the laws of the nation, state, and city,” it says.
Catanzara has not hid his support for Trump, often wearing a baseball jersey adorned with the president’s name to City Council. He’s been disciplined by the department for wearing his uniform in a photo where he had a sign saying he supports Trump.
Catanzara’s also facing potential firing over comments he posted on social media between 2016 and 2018. In one post, he wrote of Muslims, “Savages they all deserve a bullet.”
Police Supt. David Brown wanted to suspend Catanzara for one year over the posts, but the Civilian Office of Police Accountability has recommended Catanzara be fired. The Chicago Police Board will decide what happens.
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