The Racist History of Chicago’s FOP

The FOP has, without exception, vociferously opposed every proposed police reform and effort to obtain police transparency.

“The FOP is the sworn enemy of Black people,” former Congressman Bobby Rush said while defending Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx from the racist attack of the Fraternal Order of Police in 2019. “The FOP has always taken the position that Black people can be shot down in the street by members of the Chicago Police Department, and suffer no consequences.”

The FOP’s history is a powerful testament to the chilling truth of Rush’s statement. Here is a thumbnail review of that history.

On Dec. 4, 1969, Fred Hampton, the charismatic chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, was slain in his bed by Chicago police in what has been documented and widely accepted as a politically motivated assassination. But the fledgling FOP nonetheless staunchly defended the police raiders.

In 1990, when the City Council passed a resolution that declared Dec. 4 “Fred Hampton Day,” the FOP launched a campaign to repeal the resolution, publicly belittled the Black Panther Party and slandered Hampton, who was a martyr to many Chicagoans. In 2006, after the City Council unanimously voted to rename the block where Hampton was murdered as “Chairman Fred Hampton Way,” the FOP sought its rescission and voiced its “outrage” and “disbelief.”

Defending torture

In the early 1990s, the FOP began its decades-long campaign to defend Jon Burge, the notorious police torturer, and his “midnight crew.” When the evidence of their systemic and racist police torture compelled the city to seek Burge’s firing, the FOP financed the officers’ defense, and mounted a vicious attack on Burge’s victims and their lawyers, who had brought much of the damning evidence to light. The FOP also organized a fundraiser where Burge was lionized by thousands of cops and prosecutors.

After Burge was fired in 1993, the FOP called the decision a “travesty of justice,” and announced that it intended to enter a float honoring Burge in the annual South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Public outrage and cries of racism forced the FOP to withdraw the float.

In 2008, after Burge was indicted for lying under oath about torture, the FOP Board adopted a resolution to pay for Burge’s defense. The FOP president asserted that Burge, despite being accused in more than 100 documented cases of torture, had been unfairly tarnished as the “poster child of alleged police torture in this city” and vowed that the FOP “will stand with the police officer every time.”

In 2010, Burge was convicted of three felonies and sentenced to federal prison. Nonetheless, the police pension board, in a split vote, ruled that he could continue to receive his pension, and the FOP successfully defended the ruling on appeal. When Burge died in 2018, former FOP President Dean Angelo declared that Burge did not get “a fair shake” and had an “honorable” and “very effective career.” 

In 2009, the FOP held a reunion during which it attempted to rewrite history about the wanton police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The FOP declared that “the time has come that the Chicago Police be honored and recognized for their contributions to maintaining law and order — and for taking a stand against anarchy.”

The FOP has also, without exception, vociferously opposed every proposed police reform and effort to obtain police transparency.

The FOP championed the cause and financed the defense of Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times and was later convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

After protestors asked Chicago cops to take a knee in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, current FOP President John Catanzara declared, “If you kneel . . . you will be thrown out of the [FOP] Lodge.” He has also defended the white supremacists who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6th and recently invited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to visit Chicago.  Tellingly, the recently chosen 27-member FOP Advisory Board is lily white.

After Cantanzara publicly defended a crew of CPD officers who invaded Rush’s Chicago office in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, Rush likened Chicago’s FOP to the KKK, saying they were “like kissing, hugging and law-breaking cousins. The number one cause that prevents police accountability, that promotes police corruption, that protects police lawlessness,” is the FOP, he said. “They’re the organized guardians of continuous police lawlessness, of police murder and police brutality.”The Chicago FOP, Rush continued, “is the most rabid, racist body of criminal lawlessness by police in the land. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ku Klux Klan then and the Ku Klux Klan now.”

We’re hearing a lot about the FOP these days. As concerned Chicagoans, it is an important time for all of us to reflect on this racist history. 

Flint Taylor is a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He was one of the lead lawyers in the landmark Fred Hampton and Mark Clark civil rights case and has represented numerous police torture survivors during the past 35 years. 

This op-ed originally was published on March 27th, 2023 in the Chicago Sun-Times