When Injustice Watch gave me the assignment to illustrate all eight presidents of the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, I knew I wanted the portraits to act as a visual summary of each president’s tenure. Usually, with these types of projects, I start by looking for the heart of the piece. I ask myself simple questions like: What is the article telling me? How am I feeling while reading the article? Are there any patterns, contradictions, or information that inspire strong images or visual connections?
In this case, what came through as I read the timeline was the pattern of FOP leaders taking actions that violently disrupted the growth and livelihood of Black citizens in contrast to their mandate to protect and serve.
Chicago’s first FOP President, Joseph J. LeFevour, who served from 1963 to 1972, started his tenure at the height of the civil rights movement. My first renderings of LeFevour were a bit more colorful and were illustrated to invoke images of a movement, such as wheat-pasted calls to action, newspaper headlines, and graffiti. As I continued to work on his portrait, however, the headlines from that turbulent period became a focal point of the piece, and the colors changed to be reminiscent of yellowing newspapers. I looked for headlines that specifically discussed the violence wrought upon civil rights leaders, supporters, and organizers. The headline “Daley orders police in Chicago to shoot arsonists and looters,” for example, draws the connection between police brutality and the halls of power during the unrest that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
John Dineen was FOP president from 1972 to 1993. His portrait was inspired by his attempt to honor police commander Jon Burge with a float in the 1993 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Burge and his crew were known to have tortured more than 100 Black men and women. Widespread outrage caused Dineen to withdraw the float, and he was voted out as president later that year. The dark color palette and falling confetti are meant to evoke an ominously celebratory scene and highlight Dineen’s effort to use a parade to defend police abuse. Burge’s figure looming in the background highlights the insidiousness of Dineen’s choice to ally himself and the police union with Burge and to foreshadow that it ultimately led to his downfall.
William Nolan, who served from 1993 to 2002, is depicted almost like a bust or a monument. Behind him are silhouettes of community members protesting, symbolizing the community outrage at his staunch defense of officers who had been fired for alleged brutality against Black Chicagoans. While Mark Donahue, FOP president from 2002 to 2011, continued creating barriers for police accountability through legislation, his unique contribution was to vocally oppose tributes to Black activists Lucy Parsons and Fred Hampton. I wanted their images to be hovering over him in the background — almost haunting him. Michael Shields, who was president from 2011 to 2013, is portrayed with bills falling from above, pointing to his focus during his brief tenure on higher police pay.
The late Dean Angelo Sr.’s tenure (2014-2017) was marked by the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Angelo defended officer Jason Van Dyke and even gave him a job as a janitor after he was indicted for McDonald’s murder. In Angelo’s portrait, I included a still from the dashboard camera video of McDonald because watching that video was such a visceral experience for many Chicagoans, including myself. I wanted to include that image directly instead of using my hand to depict it because it is so ingrained in our collective memory.
The tenures of Kevin Graham, who served from 2017 to 2020, and current president John Catanzara, who was elected last year, spanned the Trump era. They are depicted with a bold red color palette, signifying each man’s apparent embrace of former President Donald Trump and his incendiary politics. I chose this particular hue because it is reminiscent of the Trump campaign’s red hats, which are such prevalent political symbols of our time.
As I read Emma’s timeline, I found that the FOP presidents’ noticeable pushback against civil rights and social justice movements felt so similar and repetitive that I struggled to find ways to distinguish between them. The resulting portraits range from almost strange or uncanny to ominous, reflecting the contrast between the ongoing fight for social justice and the ongoing resistance from the police union’s leaders. My hope is that my portraits shed light on this troubling history while encouraging the audience to take a more critical view of these men and the institution they lead, which continues to evade accountability.
Veronica Martinez is a Latinx visual artist based in Chicago. She focuses on the intersection between visual storytelling and social justice. You can find her work in Injustice Watch, Cicero Independiente, a recently-completed mural (“Flourish”) at Yorktown Center, and on Instagram at @veromartinezart.