Young organizers in Chicago held a downtown rally on March 2 to communicate to Mayor Rahm Emanuel that the outcome of a recent primary was a message from marginalized communities in the city. That message involves dissatisfaction that Emanuel has failed to support a reparations ordinance for police torture survivors. But organizers also sought to connect the allegations of police abuse at Homan Square to the history of police brutality in Chicago.
From 1972 to 1991, hundreds of people in Chicago, primarily people of color, were tortured by police under the command of Commander Jon Burge. No police officer was held accountable for torture because city officials failed to act before the statute of limitations expired. Survivors have received zero compensation for the brutality they endured.
According to the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project, the City Council has a reparations ordinance it could pass, which “calls for a formal apology to the survivors; creates a Commission to administer financial compensation to the survivors; creates a medical, psychological and vocational center on the south side for the survivors and their family members; provides free enrollment in City Colleges for the survivors and family members.”
It also requires “Chicago Public schools to teach a history lesson about the cases; requires the City to fund public memorials about the cases; and sets aside $20 million to finance this redress, the same amount of money the City has spent to defend Burge, other detectives and former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the Chicago Police torture cases.”
Burge continues to collect a pension from the city, even though he was sentenced to prison for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about torture in March 2011. He served his sentence at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina and was paroled in February.
Darrell Cannon, a police torture survivor, addressed the “Reparations, Not Black Sites” rally and pointed out if Emanuel can allow Burge to collect his pension “surely we who have been tortured” can be given a “few crumbs.”
“Being locked up for over twenty-four and a half years like I was wasn’t a piece of cake. Me being in Tamms supermax for over nine years before I got my freedom was not a piece of cake. People in Tamms supermax was killing themselves, was trying to commit suicide because they could not stand being isolated the way that they were,” Cannon declared. “How I survived, I can only say it was through the grace of God and through the spirit of my mother and my grandmother.”
Cannon said a majority of aldermen in the City Council support the ordinance. “Mr. Mayor, if you are serious about being the caretaker for another term, then you’re going to have to come to grips with reparations.”
Emanuel is in a runoff against Jesus Chuy Garcia, who has apparently expressed support for the reparations ordinance previously.
Breanna Champion, an organizer with the Black Youth Project 100 and We Charge Genocide, spoke about the stories suggesting police have a “black site” at Homan Square.
“I am sick and tired of being not surprised when I hear of places like Homan Square,” Champion stated. “I have spent the last few months and the last twenty-two years of my life living on the south side of Chicago in communities where I see this shit happening every single day. Things that are happening in Homan Square are happening in back alleys in Bronzeville, where young girls are getting pulled over by police and raped. That’s not spoken about though.”
“I see it happening in Englewood, where young guys are getting pulled over for the pettiest—for nothing—just being black and getting beat.” Usually the cops will say they smelled marijuana. That is the typical excuse to justify abuse and harassment, she said.
Champion recounted how her brother had been brutalized by police after they pulled him over and claimed they smelled marijuana. He spent seven months in the hospital and had to get seven stitches. His tongue was “barely in his mouth.” The police told him his record was “so bad that he had no chance of fighting” his case. The trauma he experienced still haunts him.
“When are we going to end these conferences, where we invite all these cameras to share all our stories of things that have been happening our whole lives? Our mother’s whole lives? Our father’s whole lives? Our grandfather’s whole lives? Since we got to this country, this has been happening to black people. Our existence in America is solely on torture. This is no surprise to us. This is no surprise,” Champion explained.
“The spectacle of Homan Square is really just hiding the mundane torture that people experience every day in this city,” asserted Page May, an organizer with We Charge Genocide. “And we have to understand this fight as in that larger context of police violence, that it surrounds us. It becomes the new normal for us to not even notice the abuse that black bodies experience every single day.”
The Chicago Police Department was founded in the 1830s. Its origin involved slave patrolling. There is a dark continuity, from police patrolling slaves to torturing black and brown men to the heavy policing of neighborhoods on the west and south side of Chicago today, where the legacy of police torture still persists and manifests itself in facilities like Homan Square.
“The terrorism that [happens] at Homan Square should not be a surprise to us because America has been using violence to radicalize brown bodies all around the globe for as long as America has been in existence,” Kristiana Colon, executive director of the Let Us Breathe Collective, maintained. “You use excessive force, you make people feel hopeless and then you use their rage in response to that hopelessness to justify more and more violence and it becomes an ongoing cycle.”
Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, who has represented Fred Hampton and helped unravel the police department’s cover-up of torture, urged everyone to connect the “black site” to the murder of Hampton on the west side (not far from Homan Square) and to the torture by Burge.
“Now the media wants to tell you in this little city, that it ain’t nothing. Some of the politicians don’t want to talk about it. But we’re talking about it, we’re going to make the connections,” Taylor said. “We’re talking about human rights violations, we’re talking about torture, and don’t let them forget it. Don’t let Rahm forget it, and don’t let Chuy Garcia forget it either.”
Taylor recounted, “When we first uncovered Burge’s torture, we didn’t have 120 cases. We had one case. Then we had two cases. Then all of a sudden we had 20 cases. Then we had 60 cases. Then we had 120 cases. So there’s a cover-up going on. I can taste it. I can smell it. We need to uncover it.”
He suggested there are “racist human rights violations” going on at Homan “on a scale that we don’t know, because they ain’t telling.”
“Whether it’s warm, whether it’s cold, if there’s an injustice perpetrated continuously, then it’s on us to make the difference. It’s on us to come out and say no more, no more,” Cannon exclaimed.
Videos of speeches and poetry from “Reparations, Not Black Sites” rally.