Debbie Africa of the MOVE 9 Released from Prison After 40 Years

Debbie Africa of the MOVE 9 Released from Prison after 40 Years

Debbie Africa, with her lawyer Brad Thomson (left) and her son Mike Africa Jr. (right)

Debbie Africa, with her lawyer Brad Thomson (left) and her son Mike Africa Jr. (right)

On Saturday, June 16, Debbie Africa of the MOVE 9 was released from Pennsylvania state prison. Debbie was granted parole after spending 39 years, 10 months in prison.

Debbie was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Debbie was one of 9 MOVE members, collectively known as the “MOVE 9,” who were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison following the 1978 altercation, despite evidence that exonerated them.

Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the 1978 incident and gave birth in jail to her son, Mike Africa Jr. (pictured above). Debbie has been incarcerated for Mike’s entire life and the two spent time together outside of prison for the first time following Debbie’s release.

People’s Law Office attorney Brad Thomson, along with lawyers from Abolitionist Law Center in Pennsylvania, represented Debbie in her application for parole. Unfortunately, Janet Africa and Janine Africa, two other members of the MOVE 9, were eligible for parole at the same time as Debbie and we denied.

MOVE is a Philadelphia-based radical, Black-led liberation organization opposed to environmental destruction and state violence. On May 13, 1985, seven years after the arrest of the MOVE 9, the Philadelphia police infamously dropped a firebomb on the MOVE home, killing 11 people, including 5 children and allowing over 60 homes to burn to the ground.

Debbie Africa with her attorney Brad Thomson, of People's Law Office

Debbie Africa after her release from prison, with Brad Thomson, one of her attorneys.

For more information, see:
The website for the MOVE Organization

“This is Huge”: Black Liberationist Speaks out After Her 40 Years in Prison – The Guardian

After 40 Years, First of MOVE 9 Granted Parole, Others Denied - Philadelphia Inquirer

MOVE 9 Member Debbie Africa Released From Prison After 39 Years – Philadelphia Magazine

Attorney Faults Parole Process for MOVE Members Still Jailed – AP Story on ABC News

After 40 Years, Debbie Africa of MOVE 9 Released From Prison – WHYY

MOVE’s Debbie Africa Speaks – Philadelphia Tribune

Baby-Snatching Practice Blocked Motherhood for 20-Million Seconds – This Can’t Be Happening

One MOVE 9 Member Gets Parole After 40 Years – Metro

Coming Home – Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against CPD’s Gang Database

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 19, 2018

Contact: Jessey Neves, 562-453-6342, Jessey.Neves [at] macarthurjustice.org

Tania Unzueta, 773-387-3186, tania [at] mijente.net

Community-Driven Federal Class Action Lawsuit & Report Targets Chicago Police’s Inaccurate, Racially Discriminatory Gang Database

At least 195,000 individuals – 95% Black and Latinx – are listed in an error-filled database from which their names can never be removed.

Chicago – The Chicagoans for an End to the Gang Database, a coalition of individuals and community organizations, gathered in City Hall on Tuesday to announce a new federal class action against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department (CPD), targeting CPD’s unconstitutional Gang Database, and urging City Council to take action.

The suit was filed on behalf of four individual plaintiffs, three Black and one Latino. Each plaintiff was falsely identified as a gang member and has since been subjected to irreparable harm and harassment because of the wrongful designation.

“I came up in the streets and have worked hard to create a positive life for myself. I never joined a gang and I focused on getting my education. I want to help other young people do the same thing. That’s my calling and my mission in life. But because I’m a young Black man, CPD slapped a gang label on me. Now I can’t get my dream job. I’m filing this lawsuit to clear my name and to help other people whose lives are destroyed because of the lies CPD tells through the gang database,” said Donta Lucas, a Plaintiff in the suit.

“The Chicago Police Department documented me as a gang member when I was just 14,” said Lawrence Vaile, another class member. “The police would stop me and ask me what gang I’m in, they would slap me for lying to them, because the computer shows them I’m in the gang. This put me in danger from the cops and from the streets.”

Also joining the lawsuit are a number of community-based organizations with deep roots in Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities, including Black Youth Project 100- Chicago, Blocks Together, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Latino Union, Mijente, and Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD).

“As long as the Gang Database continues to indiscriminately add Latinx and Black Chicagoans to their list, Mayor Emanuel cannot call Chicago a Sanctuary City. Making Chicago safe for immigrants starts today with making sure that the gang database stops being a list of people for ICE to pick up during immigration raids,” said Tania Unzueta, Policy Director for Mijente and one of the organizational plaintiffs.

The lawsuit notes that CPD has not developed any consistent guidelines on inclusion in the Gang database, such as information on an individual’s criminal conduct or active gang activity. Instead, CPD officers have unlimited discretion to add names to the list.

“CPD has long been on notice that the Gang Database discriminates against Black and Brown Chicagoans and violates people’s constitutional rights by creating barriers to employment and immigration relief, subjecting people to unlawful detention and searches and seizures and constant police harassment and surveillance. The gang database is riddled with inaccuracies and serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose—all it does is further institutionalize CPD’s well documented policy and practice of racial profiling.” Said Vanessa del Valle, counsel for the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The CPD confirmed that, as of May 2018, the Gang Database lists more than 128,000 adults. Although data on juveniles was not released, a new report from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Policing in Chicago Research Group estimates that the total number is closer to 195,000. Of those, 95% are Black or Latinx.

In addition to using the database to harass and falsely detain people, CPD provides its incorrect, inconsistent database to third parties. This shared, inaccurate information triggers further repercussions that can include job loss, denial of access to public housing and public education, inability to secure certain licensures, ineligibility for bond, and denial of immigration relief.

“Despite condemnation from local, national and international organizations the Chicago Police Department, in coordination with ICE and elected officials, continues to use the gang database as a tool to brutalize, surveil, and harass Black and Brown communities. This database hasn’t led to positive change for the Chicago communities directly impacted. Our tax dollars should not be spent on instruments of racism, or on tools that criminalize and scapegoat people of color.  Chicago’s so-called problem with violence is rooted in Chicago’s problem with racism and inequality.  Our resources should be used on the tools, projects and initiatives that enhance our communities, bring ordinary people together, and allow us to prosper”, said Todd St Hill, Member of BYP100.

The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and alleges multiple violations of due process protections under the U.S. Constitution. The suit also alleges that the manner in which CPD gathers and disseminates false information about gang membership violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination. Defendants include the City of Chicago, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, and several officers within the Chicago Police Department. Additional attorneys for class include Elizabeth A. Homsy of the Law Office of Elizabeth A. Homsy, Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Brendan Shiller, Chris Bergin, Tia Haywood of Shiller Preyar, LLC. and Joey Mogul of the People’s Law Office.

MEDIA RELEASE: MOVE Member Debbie Africa Released on Parole After Over 39 Years in Prison

MEDIA RELEASE: MOVE Member Debbie Africa Released on Parole After Over 39 Years in Prison

Debbie Africa and her son Mike Africa, Jr.

Debbie Africa and her son Mike Africa, Jr. after Debbie’s release from prison

June 18, 2018: On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 10 a.m., MOVE member Debbie Africa will make her first public appearance since being released from prison after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. On Saturday, June 16, Debbie was released on parole from State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cambridge Springs. Debbie will be speaking at a press conference that will be held at Faith Immanuel Lutheran Church, at 65 Penn Blvd. in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Other speakers will include Debbie’s son Mike Africa Jr. and Brad Thomson, one of Debbie’s attorneys.

Debbie said, “I am happy to finally be home with my family, but Janet, Janine and the rest of the MOVE 9 are still in prison, in the same situation that I was in, and they deserve parole too.”

Debbie was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Debbie was one of 9 MOVE members, collectively known as the “MOVE 9,” who were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison following the altercation.

Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident and gave birth in jail to her son, Mike Africa Jr. Debbie has been incarcerated for Mike’s entire life and the two spent time together outside of prison for the first time on Saturday, following Debbie’s release.

“After being born in jail and never being with my mom or dad, I’m happy to be with my mom at home for the first time ever in almost forty years. But my family is still incomplete because my dad is still in prison. Forty years of separation is not over for our family,” said Mike Africa, Jr. His father, Mike Africa Sr. is also one of the MOVE 9 and still in prison. Mike Sr. is scheduled to next appear before the parole board this upcoming September.

Janet Africa and Janine Africa, also of the MOVE 9, were denied parole after appearing before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) on the same day as Debbie. Debbie is the first member of the MOVE 9 to be granted parole. The surviving members of the MOVE 9 have been eligible for parole since 2008 and have each been denied parole when previously appearing before the PBPP.

One of Debbie’s lawyers, Bret Grote, of Abolitionist Law Center, stated, “This historic release of Debbie Africa renders the Parole Board’s decision to deny Janet and Janine all the more incomprehensible, as each has maintained DOC records that are as exemplary and essentially identical to that of Debbie.”

Debbie had not had a misconduct for violating prison rules since 1992. She also received the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as recommendations from Corrections expert and former DOC Secretary Martin Horn, and Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Janet and Janine also received the support of the DOC, Martin Horn, and the District Attorney’s Office.

In letters written to Leo Dunn, the Chairman of the PBPP, Carolyn Engel Temin, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office First Assistant, wrote on behalf of District Attorney Larry Krasner that she was “confident” that Janet and Janine “will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community” and that their “continued incarceration does not make our city safer.” In spite of these letters, the PBPP cited the “negative recommendation of the prosecuting attorney” as a basis for denial.

Brad Thomson, of the People’s Law Office, who is also a lawyer for Debbie, Janet, and Janine stated: “It is shocking that Janet and Janine were denied parole. Their circumstances and institutional records are nearly identical to Debbie’s. The decision to deny Janet and Janine appears arbitrary and it is difficult to understand how the Parole Board could justify it based on the facts that were presented.”

“The Parole Board has the opportunity to correct its mistake regarding Janet and Janine, stop playing politics with parole determinations for the MOVE 9, and release our clients,” said attorney Bret Grote. “If they do not take the chance to do the right thing, however, we fully intend to vindicate our clients’ rights and keep fighting until they join Debbie.”

In addition to Janet, Janine and Mike Sr., three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, while two others died in custody. During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third degree homicide. The six surviving members of the MOVE 9 who are still incarcerated are serving sentences of 30-100 are all eligible for parole.

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EDITORIAL: Lessons of the Jackie Wilson Murder Trial Saga

EDITORIALS: Lessons of the Jackie Wilson Murder Trial Saga
By: Chicago Sun-Times Editorials

We are disgusted, too.

A judge on Thursday ordered a new trial for a convicted cop killer, Jackie Wilson, ruling that his two previous trials were unfair because a key piece of evidence against him was extracted through police torture.

We, like so many Chicagoans, are disgusted that almost 40 years after two honorable police officers were killed, their families have not been granted the small peace that might come with an end to this judicial farce.

But we also know the judge was doing his job — and doing it right.

The blame for this endless travesty lies not with the judge, or with Wilson’s defense attorneys. The blame lies with a crew of rogue officers who once had so little respect for our criminal justice system that they beat confessions out of suspects. Now those bad confessions, transparently worthless, continue to haunt.

The simple hard truth is that Jackie Wilson, whatever the character of the man, has yet to receive a fully fair trial. And our disgust is with the original sin of police torture.

EDITORIAL

As Cook County Circuit Court Judge William Hooks thoroughly documented in a 119-page opinion, former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his associates at the time of the slayings routinely tortured African-American men to get confessions, including Wilson.

To read the rest of the editorial, click here.

Lawsuit Challenges Unconstitutional DNA Charges by Wisconsin Officials

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 7, 2018

WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND OTHER HIGH LEVEL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS APPROPRIATED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS FROM CRIMINAL DEFENDNANTS TO FUND THE STATE’S DNA ANALYSIS PROGRAM, FEDERAL CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT ALLEGES

Attorneys for three men who were assessed a $200 DNA surcharge as a result of being convicted of misdemeanors have today filed a federal civil rights class action damages lawsuit on behalf of these men and a class of 10,000 similarly situated individuals against former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, current Attorney General Brad Schimel and numerous high level government officials, including fourteen judges.

The suit alleges that in 2013 the Wisconsin Department of Justice, under the direction of Attorney General Van Hollen, successfully lobbied the Wisconsin legislature to enact a law requiring that a DNA sample be collected from everyone convicted of a crime in Wisconsin. It alleges that in order to build up funding for the new DNA program without expending any resources, Van Hollen requested that the new law require anyone convicted of a misdemeanor pay a $200 DNA surcharge but not submit a DNA sample for a 15 month period of time, then after the 15 month period of collecting surcharges but no samples, the new law would require anyone convicted of a misdemeanor to both pay the $200 surcharge and submit a DNA sample for analysis. The suit asserts that Van Hollen requested that the new DNA surcharge scheme be structured in this manner so that funding for the Department of Justice’s expanded DNA program would not have to come from the Department of Justice budget or from the State of Wisconsin but instead from people who were convicted of a misdemeanor and who did not have to submit a DNA sample for analysis over a 15 month period of time. The suit further asserts that Van Hollen’s scheme ensured that the Department of Justice would receive millions of dollars for doing nothing, so that it would have funding for its new DNA program so that 15 months later it would be able to handle the significant increase in DNA samples which all criminal defendants would be required to submit.

The suit claims that the DNA surcharge law violated the constitutional rights of approximately 10,000 people who, during this 15 month period of time, were convicted of misdemeanors and assessed a $200 DNA surcharge but did not submit a DNA sample. The suit alleges that Van Hollen and Schimel along with numerous judges and other high level government officials knew that the DNA surcharge law was violative of the constitutional rights of thousands of people, and that they had the opportunity and duty to intervene to prevent the violations of these people’s rights, yet they failed to do so.

“It has been over three years since the Department of Justice conceded that the DNA surcharge statute they came up with was unconstitutional, yet during that time the Department of Justice has just sat back and done nothing as hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal DNA surcharges continue to be collected and deposited into the Department of Justice bank accounts. To this day, the Department of Justice is still receiving money from people who agreed to pay the DNA surcharge on monthly payment plans,” said John Bradley, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “This is a gross example of the leadership of the Wisconsin Department of Justice not playing fair with the citizens of this state.”

Ben Elson of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, another attorney representing the plaintiffs, said, “the people of the State of Wisconsin need to know that their Department of Justice built its DNA database on a rotten foundation from money that was unconstitutionally taken from more than ten thousand people and that their criminal justice system condoned and facilitated this taking. We hope that this lawsuit will correct this outrageous wrong.”

The plaintiffs are represented by John Bradley of Strang Bradley, LLC in Madison, and Ben Elson, Flint Taylor and Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office.

Lessons on the Anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre

2017_1103greensboro

Activists display a sign in a March for Justice after the deadly Greensboro Massacre that took place on November 3, 1979. (Photo: The Romero Institute)

By Flint Taylor
November 3, 2017
Originally published in Truthout

Thirty-eight years ago, on November 3, 1979, 35 heavily armed members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party drove nine vehicles through the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, and opened fire on a multiracial group of demonstrators who were gathering at a Black housing project in preparation for an anti-Klan march. In the most deadly 88 seconds in the history of the city, the KKK and Nazi marauders fired over 1,000 projectiles with shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and pistols, leaving five of the march leaders dead and seven other demonstrators wounded. Most of the victims were associated with the Communist Workers Party (CWP) — a militant, multiracial organization which had been organizing in the South against the Klan.

The Greensboro police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were all aware of the plan to attack the march. However, no law enforcement officials were present except for a police informant-provocateur, Edward Dawson, who led the caravan into the housing project, and his control agent, Jerry “Rooster” Cooper, a Greensboro intelligence detective who followed the caravan and reported on its progress to the Greensboro police. Four television crews were on hand and captured the attack on video.

Read the whole article here: Truthout

Updated Complaint in Suit Against CPD Officer with History of Racist Abuse

People’s Law Office Files Updated Complaint Against “Repeater Beater”
December 22, 2016

Civil Rights Lawyers in Chicago

Yesterday, the People’s Law Office filed an amended complaint on behalf of our client Kendall McClennon. Mr. McClennon was physically brutalized, tased and subjected to racist verbal abuse by Chicago Police Officer Raymond Piwnicki, who has amassed 89 civilian complaints of misconduct.  The complaint alleges that Piwnicki has physically abused, racially assaulted and tormented scores of other Black and Latinx people in the City for over a decade.  In pursuing this litigation, we seek just compensation for the traumatic injuries Defendant Piwnicki caused to Mr. McClennon and to hold Defendant Piwnicki, the other Defendant Officers and the City of Chicago accountable for this violation of the rights of Mr. McClennon.

From the Complaint:

To date, there have been eighty-nine complaints of misconduct filed against Defendant Piwnicki in a fourteen-year time span, from the time he started with the Chicago Police Department in June of 1998 through December 5, 2012.

In 48.3% of the eighty-nine complaints, Defendant Piwnicki was accused of engaging in excessive force; he was also accused of using racist verbal abuse in 20.2% of the eighty-nine complaints…

Fore more information:

Link to WBEZ piece by Natalie Moore: Updated Lawsuit Details History of Abuse

Read the Amended Complaint

 

Torture Survivor to be Released after 25 Years in Prison

Special Prosecutor Drops Charges In  Wrongful Conviction Case of Burge-Era Torture Victim After Almost 25 Years in Prison

Chicago, IL; October 14, 2015 –At the request of the Office of the Special State’s Attorney for Cook County, today Cook County Judge Thomas Byrne dismissed all charges against Shawn Whirl, a torture victim from Jon Burge’s notorious reign of terror at the Chicago Police Department.  Mr. Whirl’s 1991 murder conviction was overturned by a unanimous Illinois appellate court in August of this year. Mr. Whirl will be released sometime midday today from Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois.

46 year-old Mr. Whirl was the first person granted a new trial after a referral by the Illinois Torture Inquiry & Relief Commission, which was established in 2009 to provide an avenue of relief for torture victims of the Chicago Police Department.  Mr. Whirl’s case was among the first cases to be referred by the Commission to the courts. 

When Whirl’s attorneys notified him of his release he said: “How do I feel? Relieved, but also nervous because this feels surreal. I just want to be able to start from somewhere to continue to correct this wrong. I’ve been in a think tank here in prison – I’ve utilized my incarceration to better myself. In order to be upset, you have to have room for anger. And I just don’t have room for that.”

Attorney Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, who represented Mr Whirl together with his law partner Ben Elson and Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago Exoneration Project, and has been representing police torture victims for nearly 30 years, said:  “This is another important victory, not only for Shawn, but also for the entire movement that has steadfastly fought for justice in the torture cases for many years. That it follows on the heels of the passage of the historic reparations ordinance makes it particularly significant.” 
Ben Elson added, “This case also underscores the importance of a strong and independent Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in the continuing campaign to seek justice for all police torture victims who remain imprisoned on the basis of confessions that were tortured from them.”Tara Thompson, who spoke with Mr. Whirl yesterday, said, “This case shows that it is never too late for the criminal justice system to right a wrong and to recognize the mistakes of the past.  We want Shawn’s release to give courage and hope to those still locked up for crimes they did not commit.”
Mr. Whirl was convicted of allegedly robbing and murdering a cab driver on the City’s far South Side in 1990.  Soon after the murder, police sought Mr. Whirl, who was then just 20 years old, for questioning.  During his interrogation, as Whirl testified at his evidentiary hearing, he was slapped, stepped on, and subjected to racial slurs by Detective James Pienta–a protégé of Jon Burge who worked with him for 13 years and who has been accused of torture by a series of other African-American men over multiple decades. Mr. Whirl described how, when he did not cooperate with Pienta’s insistence that he confess to this crime, Detective Pienta used a set of keys to repeatedly scrape a wound on Whirl’s leg until it was bloody and raw.  Pienta took the stand at Whirl’s evidentiary hearing for a new trial but declined to testify, exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked a wide ranging set of questions about his role in the pattern and practice of torture. Burge did likewise in a video that was introduced into evidence at the hearing.   
 
Because of this torture, Mr. Whirl ultimately signed a false confession in this case.  He pled guilty and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. In 2012, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission referred Whirl’s case back to the Circuit Court of Cook County for an evidentiary hearing on his torture claim.  The courts initially denied him relief, but on August 12 of this year, an Illinois Appellate Court panel vacated Whirl’s conviction. In a unanimous ruling, the panel condemned the torture of Mr. Whirl, recognized that it was part of a pattern and practice of torture under Burge, and determined that Mr. Whirl should receive a new suppression hearing and, if necessary, a new trial.  That opinion explained that ​”it is impossible to conceive of how the State could prevail at a new suppression hearing with the officer alleged to have coerced a suspect’s confession invoking his privilege against self-incrimination.”  The case then returned to the circuit court, where today the Office of the Special State’s Attorney, exercising its mandate to do justice in cases involving torture, moved to dismiss all charges, citing Detective Pienta’s continuing intention to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights, and conceding that they had no case without the tortured confession.

Mr. Whirl was represented by Flint Taylor, Ben Elson, and Sarah Gelsomino of the People’s Law Office and Tara Thompson of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School.  University of Chicago Law School students also participated in Mr. Whirl’s representation.
Mr. Whirl and his legal team will hold a press conference on Thursday, October 15, 2015, at 1:00 pm, at the People’s Law Office, 1180 N Milwaukee Ave in Chicago.

Message from Oscar Lopez Rivera

A Special Message on El Grito de Lares from Oscar López-Rivera

For the past thirty-four years, Oscar López-Rivera, the longest held political prisoner in Puerto Rican history, has commemorated El Grito de Lares from within a U.S. prison. From his cell in the Marion Federal Penitentiary, he wrote a brief reflection on the significance of El Grito.

It’s very important to celebrate the Grito de Lares, especially to learn more about that glorious event and to have a good appreciation about the courageous men and women who dared to sow the seed of struggle for the independence and sovereignty of our beloved homeland. We can raise the question, why was the abolition of slavery so important to the heroic women and men who took up arms against Spanish colonialism?  Would the Spaniards have abolished slavery without their uprising? Would the colonizers have continued taking Puerto Ricans for granted? Would the anti-colonial struggle have had the continuity it has been able to have without this event? If the Grito de Lares had not happened, could so many generations of Puerto Rican freedom fighters have given continuity to the anti-colonial struggle?

The best leaders, who have succeeded them and emulated their example, have looked at the Grito de Lares as the most important symbol of the Puerto Rican anti-colonial struggle. They have used it as a platform not only to raise consciousness, but also as one that will not allow Puerto Ricans to forget that we have the potential of becoming an independent and sovereign nation as long as we dare to struggle for it.

For us, El Grito de Lares is as important as the Grito de Dolores is to Mexicans and the Grito de Yara is to our Cuban brothers and sisters. The Grito de Lares was only the beginning of a revolutionary process. Its celebration in the Puerto Rican diaspora and in Puerto Rico confirms that our struggle to end colonialism continues, and that generation after generation has carried in its heart our national boricua identity. Indeed, the seed sown by the heroic women and men in the Grito de Lares—that 23 of September, 1868—has become a perennial one. Our struggle continues and victory will be ours because we dare to struggle and to win.

EN RESISTENCIA Y LUCHA,

Oscar López-Rivera

For more on Oscar López-Rivera and our work supporting the Puerto Rican Independence movement, visit the Puerto Rico page on this site.

Hearing on Reparations Ordinance – Mayor’s Office Announces Support

Mayor’s Office Announces Support for Reparations Legislation; Supporters Pack City Council chambers

This morning, members of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Amnesty International, USA and representatives of the Mayor’s Office announced an agreement on a reparations package for survivors of torture by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command before a special session of the City Council Finance Committee. The package, based on the Reparations Ordinance introduced in October of 2013 by Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard Brookins (21st Ward), provides concrete redress to the torture survivors and their family members, which includes: a formal apology for the torture; specialized counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members on the South side; free enrollment and job training in City Colleges for survivors and  family members; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools; a permanent public memorial to the survivors; and it sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that will allow the Burge torture survivors with us today to receive financial compensation for the torture they endured.

This historic agreement is the product of decades of organizing for justice in these cases, and represents the culmination of a concerted six-month campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International – USA, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, with the help of several other organizations including BYP100, Chicago Light Brigade and the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression.

Bill sponsor Alderman Moreno said, in support of the bill’s passage, “I call on my fellow aldermen to swiftly pass this reparations package that Mayor Emanuel has agreed to because we have a moral and ethical duty to help these victims and their families. We hope and trust that the healing and forgiving process can begin with the passage of this legislation.”

The reparations package, rooted in a restorative justice framework, acknowledges the torture of Black people under former police commander Jon Burge, and begins to make amends by providing financial compensation and services to the torture survivors and their families. Beyond the financial compensation, the legislation is an important acknowledgment by the city of its responsibility to make amends for the torture, and the decades of denials and cover-ups. It is a significant step towards justice and healing, although nothing can erase the unconscionable human rights violations committed by Burge and his fellow officers.

“The harm that was done by Burge and officers under his command to individuals, to their families, and to Black communities in Chicago cannot be undone,” said Mariame Kaba, founding Director of Project NIA. “It cannot be erased, and the lasting impact of this torture and trauma continues to this day. We keep this knowledge in our hearts and minds. And at the same time, it is important that the city acknowledge and speak to this harm. This ordinance is another step in the long march toward an end to police violence.  It is a modicum of redress.”

Scores of supporters of the legislation filled the City Council chambers to support the survivors of police torture. Several leaders in the movement for reparations gave testimony before the Council Finance Committee in support of the package, including torture survivors and CTJM members Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon, Steven Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA; Dorothy Burge, member of CTJM and Black People Against Police Torture; Joey Mogul, co-founder of CTJM and partner at the People’s Law Office and Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office.

When describing the ordinance, Darrell Cannon, a survivor of torture by detectives under Burge’s command, said “This is historic.  For those of us who have been fighting and struggling to set a landmark, this is that landmark. This is the moment. What we do here will not be undone. People across the country will talk about Chicago.  It would be the first bill in the US that would provide reparations for law enforcement conduct.”

The Reparations Ordinance was drafted to provide redress to approximately 120 African American men and women subjected to racially-motivated torture, including electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by now former Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates from 1972 through 1991.  Although Burge was convicted on federal charges for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the torture cases in 2010, he continues to draw a taxpayer funded pension, while scores of Chicago Police Torture survivors continue to suffer from the effects of the torture they endured without any compensation, assistance, or legal redress.