Chicago Fire Department investigating allegation over removal of Black Lives Matter banner

A resident claims she saw someone in a Chicago fire truck removing the banner


William Lee
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The Chicago Fire Department on Sunday said it has launched an investigation into an online complaint alleging that someone inside a firetruck removed a Black Lives Matter banner along a curving Kenwood road next to Lake Shore Drive.

Dr. Adele Cobbs said she witnessed the removal shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday.

Protesters gather across the street from Chicago's City Hall, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. The Chicago Fire Department is investigating allegations that someone in a city fire truck removed a Black Lives Matter banner from a fence. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Protesters gather across the street from Chicago's City Hall, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. The Chicago Fire Department is investigating allegations that someone in a city fire truck removed a Black Lives Matter banner from a fence. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“They literally obstructed traffic to do this,” read Cobbs’ post on Nextdoor, a neighborhood sharing app. The post also contained a photo out of the rear of her car showing Truck 15.

“Unbelievable. They are paid to serve our community and this is what they think about Black lives,” she wrote.

On Sunday, Cobbs recalled the incident in an interview with the Tribune. She said she was driving north on Cornell Avenue toward 47th Street when she came upon the firetruck stopped by the side of the narrow, two-way road next to Burnham Park.

Cobbs said she pulled over when she saw someone get out of the firetruck’s passenger side. From her rearview mirror, she could see someone removing the banner from a chain-link fence.

“I’ve seen that banner. It’s in a discreet place that was bothering no one,” Cobbs said.

Still parked in front of the truck, Cobbs said she could only react. “I stuck up my arms and said, ‘Why?‘” she recalled. The response? A loud, aggressive horn honk, she said.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford on Sunday confirmed that the department reached out to Cobb about her post. “The conduct described in the allegation will not be tolerated by the Chicago Fire Department,” Langford said in a statement.

Black Lives Matter has become a flashpoint in conversations involving both police and race relations, first following the deaths of several Black men at the hands of police, including Chicago teen Laquan McDonald, and more recently following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Supporters have called Black Lives Matter the newest iteration of the 1960s civil rights movement, while critics have derided it as a group of anti-police radicals bent on promoting unrest.

Truck 15 belongs to Station 45 in nearby Bronzeville, the city’s historic Black neighborhood from the early 20th century.

Cobbs said she’d never posted on Nextdoor before but felt compelled to make the incident public because she thinks it did a disservice to first responders. Cobbs said it was personal to her as a veteran emergency medicine physician who often works with dedicated paramedics and medical technicians.

“The fact that they would do something so petty and so disgraceful,” Cobbs said. “Why would they take that little piece away?”

Langford did not comment on what penalties a CFD member could face for removing the banner but said the department didn’t support the alleged action.

“The CFD strives to serve every neighborhood with equal response and concern. We have no tolerance for any conduct that demeans any of our residents and visitors, all of whom we have taken a sworn oath to serve. I assure you we will rapidly get to the bottom of this and if found to be accurate, discipline and corrective action will be swift and just,” Langford’s statement read.

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©2020 the Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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