This weekend, professional athletes got widespread attention for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism. Now, two Black Chicago police officers are facing reprimands after taking a knee in an Instagram post to show solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protest, and people are accusing the Chicago Police Department of hypocrisy for their response.
A spokesperson for the department told the Chicago Tribune the officers are being punished for kneeling while on the job because they are forbidden from making political statements while in uniform. The department has not named the officers, but plans to reprimand them and remind them of departmental policies, according to the Tribune.
The photo quickly garnered attention after it was posted by a Chicago activist on Instagram earlier this week. Aleta Clark, the founder of anti-gun violence organization Hugs No Slugs, wrote in the post that she walked into a police station and asked two on-duty officers if they were against police brutality and racism. When they said yes, she asked them to kneel for a picture.
Clark and the officers also raised their fists. It's unclear if the officers knew the picture would be posted on social media. The Instagram post garnered more than 2,000 likes.
After news about the punishment broke, Clark took to social media to voice frustration with the reprimands. The officers didn't do anything wrong, she said.
“Go Bother the killers of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamar Rice, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile and the list goes on and on.. these men did a Noble thing!” she wrote on Instagram, all sic. “They let me know that even in uniform they're against Police Brutality & Racism!” the Instagram post reads.
In a later post, she added, “I stand with those officers and I'll continue to create controversy for the greater good!”
She wasn't alone in her frustration about the officers being reprimanded. People took to Twitter to voice disappointment about the department's quickness to punish these officers, but not alleged perpetrators of police brutality. It took less than two days for the department to announce reprimands for these police officers, while just three weeks ago, an investigative report from the Chicago Sun-Times found that Chicago police officers rarely face adequate punishment for alcohol- and drug-related crimes. A January report from the Justice Department found that police officers in Chicago regularly disregarded the civil rights of African American and Latinx residents, while just last month a Chicago officer was found guilty after firing at a car and wounding two teenagers.
When it comes to police brutality, the families of those killed in officer-involved shootings often find themselves spending months — or even longer — waiting for officers to face verdicts. That's not counting the officers who are never indicted after shooting deaths, like the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice after mistaking a pellet gun for the real thing.
Black police officers often face unique challenges on the job. As people of color, they worry about their families being profiled by fellow officers — or even being profiled themselves while off-duty. As police officers, they work to improve the public's perception of cops, even as they're afraid themselves.
Based on the response to Clark's picture, it's clear many people of color are impressed with the police officers for kneeling. The comments section is filled with people sharing the fist emoji thanking the officers for their courage — and sharing anger about the reprimands.
In a Facebook post, New York-based activist and writer Shaun King said, "These departments find a way to punish cops whenever they feel like it."
On the other hand, some people think the department didn't do enough about the Instagram. Social media is filled with posts from users furious the officers aren't being punished even more harshly. Twitter users accused them of "taking a knee against themselves."
It's clear that these police officers managed to strike a nerve, but what's unclear is whether the department will speak out further about the punishment for the seemingly well-intentioned deed. Regardless, it's not hard to understand why people are majorly unhappy with the department. Tuesday morning, Clark posted another encouraging message toward the officers.
"Don't be afraid to be Controversial," she said in an Instagram post. "Stand for something."