CHICAGO — A Chicago judge on Friday banned a police union president from making public statements on the city’s COVID-19 policy as a stand-off over vaccine mandates sparked dueling lawsuits.
The dispute between mayor Lori Lightfoot and police union head John Catanzara has made the city the latest flashpoint in a deeply polarized debate over vaccines and whether governments have the right to mandate them.
Lightfoot sought and received an injunction against Catanzara Friday when the judge issued a 10-day restraining order that bans him from making statements that encourage members not to report their vaccination status.
The police union filed its own lawsuit Friday against Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown that seeks to force arbitration over the matter.
Like all city employees, Chicago police officers have been mandated to report their vaccine status to an online portal by midnight Friday. Those not vaccinated will be subject to twice-weekly testing.
Those who refuse to disclose their status have a few days’ grace to explain themselves — but face being placed on unpaid leave and eventually fired.
In two videos released this week, Catanzara urged police officers to ignore the order and risk loss of pay.
On Tuesday, he predicted that if a large number of officers refused to be tested or report their vaccinations, Chicago would have a “police force at 50 percent or less for this weekend.”
Lightfoot responded by saying: “I cannot and will not stand idly by while the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists threatens the health and safety of Chicago’s residents and first responders.”
She also said Catanzara was “encouraging a work stoppage or strike.”
Both state law and the union contract prohibits Chicago police from striking.
The union responded with a tweet Friday saying: “President John Catanzara has never engaged in, supported, or encouraged a work stoppage.”
Since issuing the mandate, Lightfoot’s approach has softened. Backing down from a rule that mandated vaccination for city employees, she has since agreed to give the unvaccinated an alternative: twice-weekly tests for the rest of the year.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 228 US police officers have died from COVID-19 so far this year, making it by far the leading cause of death in the line of duty among the 356 fatalities recorded.
The Chicago stand-off comes as the city once again leads the United States in murders, with 639 homicides this year through October 13 — up 55 percent from two years ago.
With shootings also up 68 percent over the period and carjackings heading for a record, the threat of losing much of the police force, even temporarily, has caused a deep sense of unease.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker told a conservative radio host that he would consider calling up the National Guard.
“We’ve offered every resource, every public safety resource that’s available to the state to offer municipalities to the city of Chicago, so if the city calls us, we’ll respond,” Pritzker said.
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