Kneeling demonstrations are taking the nation by storm as of late. From the NFL, to Congress, and now to police officers themselves, more Americans are taking a knee to make a statement about officer-involved shootings (or just to spite Donald Trump).
Two police officers from Chicago were recently photographed taking a knee with a local activist, who then posted the picture to her Instagram account.
The activist, Aleta Clark, walked into a police station and asked two black officers about the controversy surrounding the demonstrations: “are they Against Police Brutality and Racism & they say Yes… then you ask them if they support Colin Kapernick… and they also say yes… then you ask them to Kneel.!”
The post got the attention of the officers’ superiors though, and the two will now be facing disciplinary action because of the fact that they engaged in political activity while in uniform, the New York Post is reporting.
A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said the officers would be reprimanded for taking the photo.
The flak, Anthony Guglielmi, declined to identify the officers but said they work in the 6th District on the city’s south side.
“We became aware of the photo yesterday and addressed this in the same way we handled a previous incident of potential political activity while in uniform (officers with a MAGA hat),” Guglielmi wrote in an email to The Post. “The officers will be reprimanded and reminded of the policies concerning appearance and conduct while on-duty and in uniform.”
Engaging in political activity while uniform is a practice that is either generally frowned upon, or actually illegal. The federal Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities, aside from very high ranking officials such as the President or Vice President, as such positions are inherently political in nature.
However, even though these officers are city level officials, the Hatch Act may actually reach all the way to them because of the federal Department of Justice’s grant program. The law has been challenged several times since being passed in 1939, but the Supreme Court upheld the Act’s rules each time, according to the American Bar Association.
In the 1940s and 1970s, the Hatch Act was appealed to the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated free speech but both times, the high court upheld the constitutionality of the prohibitions. In 1993, the law was amended to clarify that federal, state and local employees maintain certain rights to engage in personal, off-duty, voluntary partisan activity, speech and expression. Despite the clarification that off-duty speech is protected, the statutory restrictions of the Hatch Act can have serious implications for federal, state and local government employees as well as those individuals who interact with these covered employees.
Chicago expects to receive $3.2 million from the DOJ’s Byrne grant program, according to Fox News. Because of that, it appears that these officers may have violated the Hatch Act; that is, if their salaries are connected to the DOJ’s grant, or if they engage in work that is federally funded.
Whether or not a prosecution would take place is another issue, but the good news is that the Chicago Police Department is not tolerating such on the job political statements. It’s one thing for someone to make these kinds of statements on their own time, but when they are acting as agents of the State it’s a different ball game.