The Chicago City Council passed reparations for survivors of police torture under former police commander Jon Burge. It was the culmination of decades of grassroots organizing, and a number of torture survivors traveled from various parts of the United States to witness the vote.
The reparations package that was adopted included a $5.5 million fund for any survivor of torture by Burge or officers under his command between 1972 and 1991 at either Area 2 or Area 3 police headquarters on the south side of the city. Each survivor is now eligible for up to $100,000, as long as they waive any claims of wrongdoing against the city.
Non-financial benefits, like psychological counseling, will also be available to survivors and their families. A center will be established on the south side. City colleges of Chicago will grant free tuition to survivors and their immediate family.
The city plans to encourage “public recognition” of the torture that took place by passing a resolution that will include a formal citywide apology. Public schools will teach students in 8th and 10th grade history classes about cases of torture under Burge (beginning next year). There will also be a memorial eventually constructed to acknowledge the police torture, which took place in Chicago.
“Over the course of the past 6 months, a coalition of individuals and groups organized tirelessly to achieve this goal,” declared Mariame Kaba, founder and executive director of Project NIA. “Today’s historic achievement, passage of the reparations ordinance, is owed to the decades of organizing to bring some justice to the survivors of Burge and his fellow officers’ unconscionable torture.”
“We have successfully organized to preserve the public memory of the atrocities experienced by over 110 black people at the hands of Chicago police torture because we refuse to let anyone in this city ever forget what happened here,” Kaba added.
“It is the first time that a municipality in the United States has ever offered reparations to those violated law enforcement officials,” Joey Mogul, a co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, explained.This holistic model should serve as a blueprint for how cities around the country, from Ferguson to Baltimore, can respond to systemic racist police brutality.”
Mogul was intensely involved in the development of a reparations package that the city would support and that would also be fair and acceptable to torture survivors, who deserved compensation.
Steven Hawkins, the executive director of Amnesty USA, which has been campaigning on behalf of torture survivors since at least the early 1990s, called the passage of reparations a “historic step to the show the country and the world that there should be no expiration date on reparations for crimes as heinous as torture.”
“Passing this ordinance will not only give long-overdue reparations to survivors, it will help set a precedent of US authorities taking concrete measures to hold torturers accountable,” Hawkins stated. “We are proud to stand with the survivors of torture and coalition partners in the fight to get the city to atone for the past, and we hope today’s vote will help to ensure that such shocking violations of human rights are not repeated in Chicago—or anywhere else in the United States.”
Project NIA described how this moment was the result of grassroots organizing:
The reparations package is the product of decades of organizing, litigation, and investigative journalism, and represents the culmination of an inspiring intergenerational and interracial campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International, USA, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, re-invigorated by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Forty-six organizations endorsed the ordinance, the U.N. Committee Against Torture specifically called on the U.S. Government to support the passage of the legislation and scores of Chicagoans attended demonstrations, rallies, sing-ins and citywide teach-ins over the last six months to urge Mayor Emanuel to support the reparations ordinance.
The vote for the ordinance lasted only a few seconds. A gavel pounded and the city council moved on to the next order of business.
Just prior to the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanked torture survivors and their families for their “persistence.” He thanked them for “never giving in” and “never giving up.” He applauded their honesty and commitment to condemning the city when it was wrong in addition to their efforts to force the city to right what had been done wrong.
Emanuel acknowledged this stain will never be entirely removed from Chicago’s history, however, “it can be used as a lesson of what not to do and the responsibility that all of us have.”
There was also a moment where Alderman Joe Moreno read the names of torture survivors. People in the gallery, as well as city council members, stood up to give them an ovation.
The scene stood in stark contrast to a decade ago to Mayor Richard Daley’s administration, who six and a half years ago uttered this disgusting and sarcastic “apology” to torture survivors.
“”The best way is to say, ‘Okay. I apologize to everybody [for] whatever happened to anybody in the city of Chicago.’ So, I apologize to everybody. Whatever happened to them in the city of Chicago in the past, I apologize. I didn’t do it, but somebody else did it. Your editorial was bad. I apologize. Your article about the mayor, I apologize. I need an apology from you because you wrote a bad editorial,” Daley said, laughing.
Daley played a key role in police torture as Cook County State’s Attorney in 1982. He had information that Andrew Wilson had been tortured at Area 2 police headquarters by Burge. He refused to investigate and prosecute Burge. He became a main player in the coverup of torture and has never had to publicly reckon with his conduct.
Burge, who remains unrepentant for the deeds he committed, was not prosecuted for torture. He was convicted of perjury, however, and served a short time in jail.
Anthony Holmes, a black man who was tortured in 1972 and who was provided testimony that put Burge in jail, and Darrell Cannon, a black man who was tortured in 1983, testified during a finance committee hearing in April about how they were brutally tortured.
Holmes recalled how officers pulled a machine with wires out of a brown paper bag. It was like a generator. His hand was handcuffed behind his back. He had handcuffs on his ankles. An officer put a plastic bag over his head and said to him, “Nigger, don’t you bite this plastic bag.” He bit the bag. The officer put another bag over his head.
“I thought I was dying,” Holmes explained. He was electrocuted. Three or four times he thought he was dead.
Cannon explained that November 2, 1983, is a “day that will live with me as long as I have breath in my body because on that particular day I found out that you can, in fact, terrorize a man.”
Officers played a game of Russian Roulette with a shotgun. According to Cannon, “They took a shotgun while my hands was cuffed behind my back and while I was standing out there one of the detectives told me and I quote, ‘Nigger, look around. Nobody is going to see or hear anything we do.” That officer also said to Cannon, “You can scream all you want but, nigger, before you leave here you’re going to tell us exactly what we want to hear.”
The shotgun was shoved into Cannon’s mouth. It chipped his teeth. He was made to believe the police were going to blow his head off.
After being tortured, Holmes confessed to a murder that he had not committed and spent thirty years in jail. Cannon falsely confessed to knowledge that a murder was going to be committed and was in prison for twenty-four years.
Torture survivors and their families were glad that reparations passed and that, finally, the city of Chicago is willing to openly acknowledge the injustice that for a long time was deliberately ignored. But survivors, their families and the supporters who helped them win reparations recognized that this was but a first step in a struggle against racist police brutality in the city.