Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot claimed that the body of fallen Chicago Police Officer Ella French did not receive the CPD’s traditional bagpipe tribute because the musical performance would have violated the city’s COVID-19 restrictions. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that that is simply not true: French was denied the traditional honor by a deputy superintendent who refused to allow massed officers to perform the ritual.
French was killed in an exchange of gunfire that resulted from a traffic stop last Friday. Her partner was critically wounded and remains in intensive care at the University of Chicago medical center. Two occupants of the vehicle the pair of officers stopped have been arrested, and one is charged with first-degree murder in French’s death.
Saturday night, the Sun-Times reports, officers gathered “at the Cook County medical examiner’s office to give their slain colleague, Ella French, a final send-off,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Instead, they were waved off by a deputy superintendent who told officers that “we don’t have time for this s***,” in reference to the 20-minute tribute.
“Ignoring a sacred ritual, [First Deputy Police Supt. Eric] 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,” the Sun-Times noted, based on a recording of the incident. “‘We’re not waiting on the bagpipes. Go ahead and get the vehicle inside.”
“Take it all the way inside. Do not stop,” Carter can be heard saying.
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot claimed when asked about the incident, that Carter did not make the decision, but that the outdoor bagpipe tribute was, instead, limited by COVID-19 protocols.
“Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the decision not to allow the honor guard/bagpipes at the morgue after the shooting death of Officer Ella French was due to COVID-19 protocols set by the medical examiner, and it was not a decision made by First Deputy Eric Carter,” a reporter for Chicago’s public television network, WTTW noted.
The Cook County Medical Examiner, however, responded just a short time later, contradicting Lightfoot’s explanation, and pointing out that COVID-19 protocols have not changed on the matter of outdoor bagpipe tributes, and that the tribute for French would have been appropriate and within pandemic regulations.
“The Medical Examiner’s Office contradicts Mayor Lightfoot’s claim that COVID protocols prevented bagpipers from playing to honor Officer French Saturday night,” a reporter for WGN who spoke to the ME’s office said on social media.
In their statement, the Medical Examiner noted that “[p]rotocols for processions at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office have not changed since the pandemic began. 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,” the office said.
Lightfoot has not responded, though social media commentators quickly pointed out that applying an outdoor music protocol to a bagpipe tribute for an officer killed in the line of duty seems to fly in the face of Lightfoot’s own approach to outdoor performances. Lightfoot attended the outdoor, mega-festival Lollapalooza just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refined their COVID-19 guidelines, suggesting a much stricter approach to masking and gathering in light of the Delta variant’s spread.
“Should have given one of the musicians at Lolla a set of bagpipes,” one commenter said.