Pipes down: Did Lightfoot lie about police insult over honors for fallen officer?

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

It’s a funereal ritual not just considered “sacred” among first responders but also celebrated in American culture. Bagpipes send off fallen police officers and firefighters to their final in cities across the US as well as in films such as The Departed and Backdraft, the Ron Howard film set in Chicago. In that city, the police also have a bagpipe procession accompany the body to the medical examiner’s office, part of their long tradition.

This past weekend, however, police were prevented from honoring fallen colleague Ella French with bagpipe salutes. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a deputy superintendent exclaimed, “We don’t have time for this shit,” and ordered the body moved immediately to the morgue. The rank and file in Chicago are furious at the insult:

First Deputy Police Supt. Eric Carter infuriated officers gathered Saturday night at the Cook County medical examiner’s office to give their slain colleague, Ella French, a final send-off.

Ignoring a sacred ritual, Carter impatiently declared: “We don’t have 20 minutes for this s—.” He demanded the Chicago Fire Department ambulance bearing French’s body be taken directly into the medical examiner’s office, skipping the Emerald Society’s traditional playing of bagpipes.

“We’re not waiting on the bagpipes. Go ahead and get the vehicle inside,” Carter is heard saying on a recording.

“Take it all the way inside. Do not stop.”

Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the time-honored ritual tied to the line-of-duty death of a Chicago police officer is “sacred.” For the department’s second-in-command to ignore it is not only a sacrilege, it’s an “inexcusable” affront to the rank-and-file officers Carter is assigned to lead, he said.

That’s bad enough, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot managed to make it worse. No insult was intended, Lightfoot explained. Instead, she claimed that bagpipes violate the city’s COVID-19 protocols, even when played outside:

Officers said they are angry that the Chicago Police Department attempted to put off the final send-off ritual, the playing of bagpipes, for their fallen colleague. Many are pointing the finger at First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter but Lightfoot offered several explanations.

“With COVID protocols, the coroner has made a lot of new restrictions on what can and cannot happen at the morgue, is my understanding,” she said.

Ahem. This took place in the same city as Lollapalooza less than two weeks ago, right? Why would bagpipes or processions outdoors be more risky? Also, Lightfoot’s explanation doesn’t cover Carter’s comment about not having “the time for this shit” either. The morgue pointed out quickly that it didn’t have anything to do with their protocols, which haven’t changed at all (via Twitchy):

In a statement, however, a spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s Officer told WGN News there are no new protocols concerning bagpipes.

“Protocols for processions at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office have not changed since the pandemic began,” wrote Natalia Derevyanny. “First responders have always gathered in the office parking lot and dock to pay respects to fallen police officers and firefighters. Early Sunday morning, police officers gathered in the parking and dock area as usual and bagpipers accompanied the body of Officer Ella French through the parking lot to the dock. At no time did personnel from the Medical Examiner’s Office try to impede officers or bagpipers.”

After getting depantsed by the medical examiner’s office, Lightfoot tried to offer a new explanation that attacked some of the officers present that night:

“My understanding is there was no official honor guard that night. There was — I’m going to choose my words carefully — I think well-meaning, but not well-organized, group that wanted to hijack the procession, which would have meant that the family would have been delayed exponentially in getting to the morgue.”

Good Lord. Now a traditional funeral procession is some sort of conspiracy against her leadership? Lightfoot must want to set fire to her relationship with law enforcement, and that blaze might end up torching her connections to the firefighters as well. Her leadership has been a disaster of sufficient proportions to make one nostalgic for the salad days of Rahm Emanuel.