CHICAGO - Two Chicago police officers are being reprimanded for kneeling with a community activist in support of protests by NFL players against police brutality and systemic racism, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel said their actions could be a sign of something positive happening in the city.
The woman at the center of the photo defended the officers for taking a stand, even though department regulations prohibit officers from engaging in political activities while in uniform. She also said police need to do a lot more to improve community relations.
Aleta Clark knew she would stir up controversy when she walked into the 6th District police station Sunday and asked two CPD officers to kneel with her in support of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.
"I think that they should not be reprimanded. They shouldn't get any form of punishment for being humans and knowing what's right. They kneeled for what was right. They kneeled for what was just, that's them serving and protecting," Clark said.
Chicago police said the two officers will have an hour of refresher training along with their reprimand, but will not face suspensions. Mayor Emanuel said there's a teachable moment in the kneeling flap and questions of people's patriotism. He also saw a positive in what this picture might symbolize.
"You have a community activist who felt comfortable enough to ask police officers, so the first symbol is we're making progress on our community relations," he said.
Father Michael Pfleger sent a letter to Chicago police brass and the officers, praising them for taking a stand for those who feel abandoned and forgotten.
"I think that their actions do more to bring credibility and trust than probably 100 CAPS meetings because what they're saying is, 'We're not afraid to identify with the neighborhood,'" Pfleger said.
But Clark said this one incident should not be reason for the mayor or anyone else to be crowing about police-community relations.
"Consistency is key. Unless the entire police department is going to kneel, then I don't think the police department should gain credit for this," she said.
Chicago police said they are not making department-wide announcements at roll calls reminding officers they can't take a stand on political issues while in uniform, but they did so in the 6th District.
Police also said Clark had approached other officers in the district asking them to kneel, but knowing the regulations they told her they could not do that.