How Activists Won Reparations for the Survivors of Chicago Police Department Torture

A history of the movement to make Chicago pay for the crimes of former police commander Jon Burge.

Reparations for Chicago police torture “is something that sets a precedent that has never been done in the history of America. Reparations given to black men tortured by some white detectives. It’s historic.”

The 20-year reign of police torture that was orchestrated by Commander Jon Burge—and implicated former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a myriad of high ranking police and prosecutorial officials—has haunted Chicago for decades. In These Times has covered Burge and the movement to achieve a modicum of justice for his victims very closely over the years (you can read our past coverage herehereherehere, and here). Finally, on May 6, 2015, in response to a movement that has spanned a generation, the Chicago City Council formally recognized this sordid history by passing historic legislation that provides reparations to the survivors of police torture in Chicago.

The achievement was monumental. And given that today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, it seems like an apt time to reflect on the history of this movement—and how it won.

Reparations’ beginnings

The right to financial compensation and full rehabilitation for Chicago police torture survivors who had no legal recourse was first raised in September 2005 by the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights in a submission to the UN Committee Against Torture, (CAT). The next May, Joey Mogul, an attorney at the People’s Law Office (where I work) again raised these issues to the CAT when she appeared before it. The call was taken up by Black People Against Police Torture, a grassroots organization, and its leader, attorney Standish Willis, who demanded, as part of their campaign against the 2016 Olympics being held in Chicago, that Mayor Richard M. Daley and the city of Chicago make a formal apology to all Chicago police torture survivors and provide financial compensation and psychological services to them.

These demands were reasserted in a shadow report submitted in December of 2007 to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Unfortunately, these demands got little attention in the local media.

In October 2008, Jon Burge was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago for lying about whether he tortured African-American suspects with electric shock, suffocation and other medieval techniques from 1972 to 1991. The indictment followed a $20 million settlement that was approved, in January 2008, by the Chicago City Council and awarded to four African American men who were tortured into giving false confessions and spent decades on death row for crimes they did not commit.

At the City Council session that January, from which Mayor Daley was conspicuously absent, African-American Aldermen Howard Brookins and Leslie Hairston offered an impromptu apology to the men. Veteran City Hall Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman reported Brookins as saying that “this city still owes [an apology to] these people, who spent years in prison and some on Death Row, who were tortured in ways that put Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to shame. On behalf of the City Council and the corporation counsel, we apologize to all of you.”

Directly after Burge’s indictment, Spielman gave Daley, who was a longtime participant in the torture scandal both as Cook County State’s Attorney and as mayor, an opportunity to apologize. Two years earlier, in response to the release of the Cook County Special Prosecutors’ report that found Burge and his men to have tortured numerous black suspects, an embattled Daley had offered to “apologize to anyone.” This time, however, he waxed sarcastic, mocking in (characteristically less than articulate) response:

The best way is to say, “OK. 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.

Laughing, Daley continued “You do that, and everybody feels good. Fine. But I was not the mayor. I was not the police chief. I did not promote him. You know that. But you’ve never written that, and you’re afraid to. I understand.”

Personally affronted by Daley’s sarcasm and disrespect, I challenged Daley to make a sincere apology, stating, “It is disgraceful and remarkably disrespectful to say that when he’s asked to make good on an apology to the victims of the most heinous kind of police abuse and torture in the history of Chicago, particularly when he and his first assistant, Richard Devine, were responsible over 25 years ago for not taking Burge off the street and prosecuting him. … Daley has repeatedly sided with Burge and against the victims of torture in scores of cases.”

The movement gathers momentum

In late June 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, in significant part based on the testimony of Anthony Holmes and Melvin Jones, two men who were allegedly brutally electric shocked by Burge himself. However, neither of these men, like scores of their fellow survivors, had received any compensation, because they had never been officially exonerated for their alleged crimes and the statute of limitations had long since run out on their claims of torture.

Burge’s conviction provided a platform to continue the call for restorative justice, and Holmes, Jones, and lawyers from the PLO, along with Alice Kim, a veteran activist who was working with the Illinois Coalition Against Torture, seized the opportunity to raise the issue of compensation and lack of psychological counseling for all torture survivors on a wide-ranging public stage. The demand was later included in a petition that urged a sentence for Burge that was commensurate with his underlying crimes and accounted for his refusal to accept responsibility for his serialized torture.

In late 2010, Mayor Daley announced that he would not run for re-election. A few months later, Jon Burge was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in federal prison. At the sentencing hearing, Holmes spoke through tears, saying: “What I wanted to ask Burge. … Why did you do this? Why would you take a statement you knew was not true? You were supposed to be the law. He laughed while he was torturing me.”

Following Holmes’ moving testimony and the imposition of the sentence that many felt was far too short, we took the opportunity to again publicly raise the apology issue, telling the press that “the new mayor will have to apologize to these victims of torture.” That new mayor turned out to be Rahm Emanuel, who won easily that spring.

On the heels of Burge’s conviction, a group of artists and educators joined forces with activists and PLO attorney Joey Mogul to form an organization that would become known as the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM). Devoted to restorative justice, CTJM’s first project was to call on artists and activists to propose how they would memorialize the Chicago Police torture cases and the struggle for justice for victims.

At the June 2011 launch of the project, the group publicly announced its intention “to honor the survivors of torture, their family members, and the African-American communities affected by the torture,” and put out a public call for people to submit proposals for the memorials.

A second attempt at a mayoral apology

Two months later, the continuing police torture scandal landed squarely in Emanuel’s lap after a federal judge ruled that Daley was a proper defendant in exonerated torture survivor Michael Tillman’s civil damages suit. On the heels of the ruling, PLO lawyers, who had brought Tillman’s suit, subpoenaed Daley to give sworn deposition testimony.

Fran Spielman led her story in the Sun-Times on the Daley ruling as follows: “Mayor Rahm Emanuel walked a political tightrope Wednesday on the explosive police torture allegations that continue to surround convicted former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.” Emanuel refused to comment on Daley other than to say that the city would pay for his lawyers as they had done for Burge for the previous 23 years. We again responded, accusing Emanuel of adopting the “same head‑in‑the‑sand line” that the city did under Daley,” while further publicly contending that

He doesn’t need to do that. He’s not involved in this. He should bring a fresh eye to it. Not only should he resolve these cases so taxpayers can compensate the victims rather than the torturers. He should apologize to the African American community and to the victims for this pattern of torture.

A few days later, Emanuel told Spielman that it was “time to end” the torture cases and that he was “working toward” settling the outstanding cases. He refused Spielman’s invitation to apologize and, in an apparent reaction to our accusation, added

I answered one question. Some people say, “This pulls Rahm into it.” … That’s wrong. … This is like the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. This is the law. [Daley’s] allowed to have the cost of his legal defense … That’s it. I’m not part of it.

In January 2012, the Human Relations Committee of the Chicago City Council held a hearing on a resolution proposed by the Illinois Coalition Against Torture that declared Chicago to be a “torture-free zone.” The subcommittee was chaired by Alderman Joe Moore, who would later become a strong supporter of reparations.

The resolution, which was backed by a petition signed by 3,500 people, was thought by many to be symbolic only, and several witnesses who testified at the hearing, including Chilean torture survivor and human rights activist Mario Venegas and myself, raised the issues of financial compensation, an official apology and funding for the treatment of all police torture survivors. With little fanfare, the full City Council, in a 45-0 vote, subsequently passed the resolution.

The issue of an apology again hit the local headlines in the summer of 2012, as the Tillman case was settled with the city, giving Daley another pass when it came to his being required to detail his role in the torture scandal under oath. In a Sun-Times op-ed, in the media firestorm that accompanied the settlement and in a subsequent editorial, the demand for an official apology was again raised. Emanuel’s response continued to be no.

As reported in the Sun-Times, Emanuel told reporters when asked by Spielman why he didn’t see fit to apologize:

I am focused on the future of the city, not just about the past. I wanted to settle this, which is what we have done. I also wanted to see this dark chapter in the city’s history brought to a close. I think we are achieving it. And to learn the lessons from this moment so we can build a future for the city.

Calling it a missed opportunity for Emanuel to show that there had been a “true changing of the guard,” we responded by asserting that it would be “an important symbolic act that would help to heal this community,” and that Emanuel would have to be “tone-deaf to the African-American community not to understand that that community still feels very strongly that justice has not been done, and that the city still stands on the wrong side of the issue.”

Later in the year, CTJM presented an ambitious series of cultural and educative events on the history of torture. At this important stage of the movement for reparations, CTJM co-founder Joey Mogul, drawing on the ideas advanced during the previous several years, input from the torture survivors and community members, and relevant precepts of international law, drafted the original Reparations Ordinance.

In June 2013, in recognition of Torture Awareness Month, I raised the issue of torture reparations:

What if Mayor Emanuel, on behalf of the city and its police department, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, on behalf of the county and the state’s attorneys’ office, stood in front of the old Area 2 “House of Screams” at 91st and Cottage Grove and issued a joint apology to all of Chicago’s citizens, together with a pledge to create a reparations fund to compensate those still-suffering survivors of Chicago police torture who were cheated out of lawsuits by the cover-up of the scandal? This fund could also be used to provide treatment for the psychological damage inflicted and for job training. Perhaps Burge and Daley’s publicly funded lawyers could be “persuaded” by the City and its taxpayers to return a healthy portion of their ill-gotten gains to help to fund this effort. Then and only then will the true healing begin.

A Mayoral Apology

That fall, in September 2013, the city settled two more torture cases brought on behalf of exonerated torture survivors for a total of $12.3 million. One of the survivors, Ronald Kitchen, had spent 13 of his 21 imprisoned years on death row. Confronted once again by Spielman, Emanuel reversed his field and offered an impromptu apology:

I am sorry this happened. Let us all now move on. This is a dark chapter on the history of the city of Chicago. I want to build a future for the city. … But, we have to close the books on this. We have to reconcile our past. … Yes, there has been a settlement. And I do believe that this is a way of saying all of us are sorry about what happened … and closing that stain on the city’s reputation.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle praised the mayor for his apology, saying that it was “long overdue and entirely appropriate.” In a powerful statement, she acknowledged the role that county prosecutors had played in the torture conspiracy, and further stated that

You’ve got to ‘fess up and acknowledge the difficult, problematic parts of your own history if you’re ever going to make any progress forward. Denial gets you nowhere. Refusing to acknowledge those reprehensible parts of our national or local history is self-destructive in the long run.

We took the occasion to again raise the concept of reparations and for the first time called for the City to establish a $20 million fund—an amount equal to that which had been paid out by the City to private lawyers to defend Burge, Daley and their cohorts—to compensate the survivors who had no legal recourse because of the official cover-up. Until then, we exhorted, “the wound on the city of Chicago will not heal and its conscience will not be cleansed.” The city, through its corporation counsel Steve Patton, publicly rejected the demand for compensation, saying that “it would be very difficult to justify spending taxpayer dollars to settle a claim that’s barred.”

On the heels of the apology, Mogul, relying on reparations legislation passed in other countries, revised the reparations ordinance to include further input from torture survivors, their family members and communities. The ordinance specifically called for an official apology, compensation to the survivors, tuition-free education at Chicago City Colleges for all torture survivors and their families, and a center on the South Side of Chicago that would provide psychological counseling, health care services and vocational training to those affected by law enforcement torture and abuse. Repeating the call for the $20 million fund, the ordinance also called for the Chicago Public Schools to teach about the torture cases and the city to sponsor the construction of public torture memorials.

The Reparations Ordinance is Introduced into city council

Armed with the ordinance, CTJM member Alice Kim, who had been a leader in the fight against the death penalty and police torture, met with Alderman Joe Moreno, who had a history of fighting for death row torture survivors, and solicited his support and leadership on the reparations ordinance. Moreno agreed to sponsor the ordinance and enlisted Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr., who was the chair of the City Council’s African-American caucus, to be a co-sponsor.

Members of CTJM then took on the task of meeting with numerous progressive members of the council, explaining the ordinance and obtaining, one by one, their endorsement. Martha Biondi, a professor of African-American history at Northwestern University, who fought for reparations for slavery and had previously testified in support of such resolutions in City Council, played a crucial role in obtaining this important additional aldermanic support. Two of the enlisted aldermen, Joe Moore and Roderick Sawyer, joined Moreno and Brookins as strategists who provided valuable assistance to this effort.

A hearing on the ordinance was scheduled for March 2014 before the council’s Finance Committee, which was chaired by the politically powerful Alderman Ed Burke. But the hearing was postponed after an aide to Alderman Brookins was indicted by the U.S. Attorney on corruption charges only days before the hearing was due to begin.

In April 2014, the reparations movement was further buoyed by the entry of Amnesty International into a nascent coalition headed up by CTJM. Amnesty decided to turn its attention to police torture in the U.S. and agreed to sign on in support of the reparations ordinance. In doing so, it featured Darrell Cannon, who had been subjected to electric shock and a mock execution by two of Burges’s main operatives.

Several of Amnesty’s staffers helped to organize a rally, march and vigil in downtown Chicago during the organization’s national convention in April 2014. Participants in the rally each carried a black flag, created by CTJM members, emblazoned with the name of a different one of the 119 known torture survivors. In a moving ceremony at the end of the rally, each name was read and the corresponding flag was presented, with each of the flag holders then forming a line facing City Hall.

As the year wore on, other activist groups, including Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, joined the coalition that led the campaign to get the reparations ordinance passed, adding new and creative leadership, including Mariame Kaba and Page May, energetic youth and a strong infusion of young people of color. The number of aldermanic sponsors grew as a result of the diligent work of CTJM, and a petition drive was initiated. The movement got another shot in the arm when Karen Lewis, the iconic president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who at that time appeared to be mounting a strong challenge to Emanuel in the upcoming mayoral primary, publicly announced her support for the ordinance.

Electoral Politics

In October 2014, outrage over the continuing torture scandal boiled up once again as Burge was released to a halfway house after serving three-and-a-half years of his four-and-a-half year sentence. CTJM conducted a well-attended press conference that was covered in the local news, at which torture survivors, their lawyers and other CTJM members called for the city council to at long last hold a hearing on the ordinance while contrasting Burge and his release with a full pension to that of the survivors who had not received “one red cent.” The local NBC TV affiliate editorialized in favor of reparations, while Spielman, after once again inquiring of Emanuel, reported that he was “riding the fence” on reparations:

At one point, Emanuel appeared to crack the door open to the idea, telling reporters that there are “a number of things” that the reparations ordinance demanded that he was prepared to “look at and work through. On the money piece, we have to study it,” the mayor said, without ruling it out. “As we get ready for what we have to do from a financial standpoint, there must be some way to address those whose statute of limitations has run out. But that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to do it.” The mayor was asked whether that answer should be construed as a “yes, no or maybe.” With trademark sarcasm, he replied, “I don’t know. You’ve got all three answers.”

In response, we pointedly raised the upcoming election and emphasized Emanuel’s lingering unpopularity in the African-American community for having closed 49 public schools:

There is still a tremendous amount of outrage at the unfairness of Burge getting his pension, the city paying $20 million to defend him and not compensating men who have gotten little or nothing despite being tortured by Burge. The political repercussions of him not supporting this important ordinance cannot be overstated.

Stepping up the pressure

In the fall of 2014, CTJM worked with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights to submit a shadow brief calling on the United Nations Committee Against Torture to specifically recommend that it call on the U.S. Government to support the Reparations Ordinance. CTJM member and PLO attorney Shubra Ohri and We Charge Genocide members journeyed to Geneva, Switzerland and appeared before the CAT where they raised the issue of torture reparations, which are guaranteed under Article 14 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and staged a dramatic demonstration to highlight continuing racist police violence in Chicago. A few weeks later, the CAT specifically recommended that the U.S. support the passage of the reparations ordinance.

Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes, now joined by Marc Clements, and several mothers of imprisoned torture survivors, continued to be the face of the movement. Holmes had received nothing, while Cannon had received a paltry $3,000 settlement more than 25 years ago—before the cover-up began to unravel. In December, Amnesty, CTJM, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide led a five-mile march from police headquarters to the Mayor’s Office at City Hall, where the marchers delivered petitions signed by nearly 40,000 people, and then peacefully demonstrated in the hallway outside of his office.

As the February 2015 mayoral primary election approached, the effort to raise the profile of reparations intensified as well. CTJM now had a majority of the 50 aldermen committed as sponsors, and a significant number of other politicians, aldermanic candidates, and community organizations had come aboard as well. After a concerted effort by the coalition, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who had replaced Karen Lewis as Emanuel’s main opponent after Lewis had been diagnosed with brain cancer, declared his support for the ordinance.

Ten days before the election, the Reparations Movement held a rollicking rally in a downtown temple attended by a multi-racial and multi-generational overflow crowd. CTJM distributed a scorecard, designed by CTJM member Carla Mayer, that recorded which politicians supported the ordinance, and those (with particular emphasis on the mayor) which did not.

Many of the attendees wore black tee shirts designed by Mayer and distributed by CTJM which had the City of Chicago flag—with a fifth star, black in color added to represent the torture survivors—emblazoned on the front. The rally was timed to coincide with Burge’s release from the halfway house, which followed by a week Burge’s latest refusal to admit any responsibility for his actions, once again in a sworn deposition during which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right in response to all questions asked.

The demand for the long postponed hearing on the ordinance was the rallying cry. Other actions in support of reparations included a light show in front of the mayor’s house that spelled out “Reparations Now,” teach-ins, a “sing-in” at city hall, Sunday church presentations throughout the city, and demonstrations on CTA trains and outside of mayoral debates. The movement refused to let up.

Talk and fight

A few days after the Rally, Chicago Corporation Counsel Steve Patton called PLO lawyers to suggest a post-primary election meeting with CTJM representatives at which the city would present its plan for reparations.

Patton—who, before becoming corporation counsel had negotiated a multi-billion dollar settlement on behalf of several leading tobacco companies—cautioned that the meeting would not take the form of negotiations, and that the city was not inclined to provide any compensation to the survivors. We responded that CTJM’s position was that compensation was a non-negotiable requirement, but CTJM decided to accept the invitation in order to learn what the City had planned and to lobby for its complete reparations package.

CTJM put together a meeting team that included two PLO lawyers, a representative from BPAPT, three CTJM members and two representatives from Amnesty International. Patton headed up a group that included representatives from the mayor’s Legislative, Legal, and Human Relations Departments. The first meeting was convened shortly after Emanuel had suffered a surprising setback in the primary election, as he had not won a majority of the vote and was therefore required to face Chuy Garcia in an early April runoff. Non-financial issues were at the forefront of the initial discussions, but the team insisted that financial compensation had to be part of the legislation and continued to demand a hearing on the original ordinance.

Alderman Burke had at long last set a hearing date for the week after the April election on April 14, in the wake of the coalition publicly announcing it was going to attend and disrupt the Finance Committee meeting unless there was a hearing set on the ordinance. Both sides fully understood that, depending on the outcome of the discussions, the city, and Mayor Emanuel, would, to paraphrase Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, either be “buried” or “praised” at the hearing.

The team met with the city on several occasions throughout March and early April, and the guardedness that in several instances escalated into outright hostility, was gradually replaced by a mutual spirit of cooperation as both sides recognized the other’s good faith and worked out the agreed upon parameters of the non-financial issues. At various times, Aldermen Moore, Brookins, and Moreno joined the discussions.

The elephant in the room—compensation for the survivors—was discussed with some trepidation, and as the self-imposed deadline approached, CTJM and its negotiating team, with some reluctance, agreed internally upon a bottom line of $100,000 per survivor. Based on an estimated pool of 120 potential survivors, CTJM adjusted its demand to $12 million. The city responded with an offer of $2-3 million.

Shortly before the hearing, the negotiating team re-evaluated the size of the pool, reluctantly decided to remove the deceased survivors from eligibility for financial compensation, and calculated that in all likelihood the actual compensation pool would be more in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 people, making the $100,000 per survivor realizable at $5-6 million. The city had reluctantly come up to $5 million and was holding firm, but in a last ditch phone call to Steve Patton, a compromise of $5.5 million was given as the final offer. CTJM polled a number of survivors, all of whom were enthusiastic about the compromise number, and the offer was accepted on the eve of the hearing.

Reparations wins

At the Finance Committee hearing, which was held in the main city hall chamber and was packed with supporters of reparations, the team’s agreement with the city, which had been incorporated into a resolution and an amended ordinance, was detailed by Joey Mogul, who had employed expert leadership throughout the reparations campaign, and by Patton, followed by testimony in support by Cannon, Holmes, Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Steve Hawkins, CTJM and BPAPT member Dorothy Burge and myself. The amended resolution and ordinance, which the committee approved unanimously, provided for financial compensation to the living survivors; non-financial reparations for living survivors, and for the immediate families of all survivors, living and deceased, that included psychological counseling at a South Side center, job training, and free education at the City Colleges; an official apology; required teaching of the torture scandal in the Chicago public schools; and a public memorial.

Alderman Moreno presented the resolution and ordinance to the full City Council on May 6. Fifteen survivors from as far away as Atlanta and several mothers were in attendance to bear witness to the historic event. They sat together, some with family members, in the audience, and during his presentation, Moreno called out each of the survivors’ names and each person stood. The Council members then spontaneously rose, turned, faced the standing men, and, in a moment of high emotion, applauded them. After other aldermen, including Moore and Brookins, spoke, Mayor Emanuel delivered an apology that far surpassed expectations:

This is another step but an essential step in righting a wrong, removing a stain on the reputation of this great city. Chicago finally will confront its past and come to terms with it and recognize when something wrong was done and be able to be strong enough to say something was wrong.

Directly addressing the torture survivors and their families, the mayor continued:

I want to thank you for your persistence. I want to thank you for never giving in and never giving up and allowing the city to join you on that journey to come face-to-face with the past and be honest enough and strong enough to say when we are wrong and try to make right what we’ve done wrong. This stain cannot be removed from the history of our city. But it can be used as a lesson of what not to do and the responsibility that all of us have.

The resolution and ordinance were adopted by the council, and the survivors, their families, Amnesty, CTJM, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide members, the lawyers and all of the people who joined the movement for reparations and made the victory possible joined in the celebration that followed.

Over the course of the struggle, the movement had once again looked internationally both for support and for examples—Chile, Argentina and South Africa, to name three. The examples here in the U.S. were precious few: Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II, the descendants of the African-American victims of the deadly 1923 race riot in Rosewood, Florida and the victims of the mass sterilizations in North Carolina. The movement was also inspired by the continuing struggle for reparations for enslaved African Americans, the movement to fully document and memorialize lynchings in the South and, most importantly, by the survivors of Chicago police torture.

While full compensation for the pain suffered at the hands of the torturers was not (and could not be) obtained—a reality that was pointed out in a Sun-Times editorial that otherwise commended the historic accomplishment—the reparations package is both symbolically and in fact substantial and unique, particularly given that the survivors had no legal recourse.

Hopefully, the victory for reparations for Chicago’s torture survivors will serve as a beacon to others across the country who are fighting against racist police violence. In the words of Darrell Cannon, reparations for Chicago police torture “is something that sets a precedent that has never been done in the history of America. Reparations given to black men tortured by some white detectives. It’s historic.”

By: Flint Taylor

This originally was published in In These Times  on June 26, 2015.

Reflecting Upon the Recent Police Standoff in Edgewater

A week ago, there were reports of a police standoff for five hours overnight in Edgewater that brought scores of police vehicles to a several block area and resulted in the arrests of over 30 men, women and children charged with a minor offense of disturbing the peace, a misdemeanor charge. Police were responding to gunshots that they ultimately determined came from behind the apartment and the 30 or partygoers. Many neighbors who were evacuated or told to go back into their houses, have continuing concerns about violence and drug activity in their mixed race, mixed income neighborhood. This is a sentiment they share with many urban Chicagoans. However, the incident bears reflection and raises many questions for our communities about responsible policing and the accountability of law enforcement.

Was the police action a measured response to legitimate concerns of violence? Or was the police response a show of force and intimidation directed at certain people? Why were over 30 people of color marched out of a residence and charged with minor crimes. Why was the neighborhood under siege for five hours and the streets packed curb to curb with police patrol cars, squadrols and armoured Hummer-style trucks?

We must ask these questions and others. We cannot afford to just accept a thin police narrative of events and move on. In Chicago, the police’s account of incidents has proven untrustworthy, as demonstrated by recent lawsuits that have impeached their versions of police shootings of Black men.  As civilians it is incumbent upon us to ensure our public officials are accountable to us for their actions, including law enforcement personnel as our nation becomes increasingly desensitized to police violence tactics. This is not to judge or criticize with bias but bring fairness, justice and freedom from violence for all.

This was written by PLO attorney Janine Hoft

Reparations: A Blueprint to address systemic police violence

The City of Chicago made history on Wednesday May 6 when it passed legislation providing reparations to survivors of racially motivated police torture committed between 1972 and 1991. Once implemented, it will offer a measure of hope to survivors, their family members and African American communities devastated by the legacy of torture committed by infamous former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command.

It represents a bold break with the status quo, representing the first time that a municipality reparationswon-2 (1)in the United States – - a nation with a long tradition of unanswered calls for redress for systemic race based violence, including slavery and lynchings – - will provide reparations to those harmed by law enforcement violence.   It can serve as a blueprint for what reparations might look like for systemic police abuse plaguing cities across the nation

Chicago’s reparations package was driven by the inadequacy of traditional legal remedies to make individuals and communities whole for systemic harm. After decades of litigation, activism and investigative journalism, the truth about systemic torture of African Americans by white detectives to secure confessions, involving electric shock, suffocation, and mock execution, often accompanied by racialized abuse, was exposed.  Yet full accountability proved elusive.

The statute of limitations precluded Burge and his men from being held criminally or civilly responsible for their crimes of torture (although Burge was ultimately convicted in 2010 for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the torture he and others committed). They enjoyed decades of torturing with impunity, courtesy of a cover up by the Chicago Police Department’s chain of command and governmental officials, including former Mayor Richard M. Daley.  Moreover, the limited remedies offered by civil litigation – financial settlements that were often meager and practically unavailable to the vast majority of survivors – were inadequate to address the trauma and material needs of the torture survivors, their family members and communities.

Burge’s legacy of torture left festering wounds that remain open to this day. Many survivors continue to suffer from nightmares and flashbacks, grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder that has gone untreated for decades.  They live under a shroud of shame, guilt, and anguish that undermines their ability to form relationships and share community with others.  Survivors’ family members were also left to contend with their secondary trauma in isolation, after their fathers, sons and partners were ripped from them.  As whispers of the torture spread, entire communities lived in fear that they or their loved ones would be disappeared from street corners or homes into the bowels of police stations to be tortured and terrorized.  The torture, like lynchings, served to terrorize entire African American communities.

Recognizing the lack of redress for these systemic harms, Standish Willis, founder of Black People Against Police Torture, made the initial call for reparations.  Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), a grassroots group of artists, activists, attorneys and survivors, amplified this call by asking police torture survivors and the larger community to imagine how they would publicly memorialize these cases recognizing the difficulty and immensity of depicting the harms perpetrated, while also recognizing the struggle waged by many for justice for decades.  Through art charrettes, teach-ins, creative outreach and community dialogue, CTJM sought to spark the collective imagination of communities to conceptualize what was necessary for the City to provide in order for individuals and communities to heal from torture.  This call served to redirect everyone’s attention beyond the usual cries for accountability for police brutality and to focus on holistic means of meeting the material needs of all members of impacted communities, and offering positive visions for healing and repair.

Given the glaring lack of precedent in the U.S., CTJM looked to the U.N. Convention Against Torture’s principles of restitution, rehabilitation, compensation and public acknowledgment. CTJM also consulted with Juan Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, himself a survivor of torture in Argentina, and relied on the expansive scope of reparations provided for atrocities committed under the Pinochet regime in Chile when conceiving of the essential elements of the original legislation (a CTJM member is a Chilean torture survivor who fought for reparations in Chile as well).

Ultimately, the reparations package, brought to fruition by an inspiring multiracial and intergenerational campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, within the larger context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, achieved far more than any individual criminal prosecution or lawsuit could afford.  In addition to financial compensation to all individual survivors, it includes a legislative admission and apology by the City of Chicago for the torture committed by city employees, settling the historical record and placing this systemic pattern and practice of torture beyond dispute.  The reparations package also includes the creation of a center on Chicago’s Southside where survivors can access specialized trauma counseling services. It extends benefits like job placement, and free tuition at City Colleges for the torture survivors and their families.

Reparations are also an exercise in collective grief, catharsis and healing. As part of this process of narrating and commemorating what Burge torture survivors endured, the City of Chicago will not only create a permanent public memorial, it will also create a living memorial through an 8th and 10th grade curriculum for Chicago Public schools about the reparationswon-3 (1)Burge torture cases.  The hope is that by inscribing these cases both figuratively and literally into the collective memory, generations to come will ensure torture is never again committed in our name.

Like every reparations process, there have been fair critiques for being too narrowly focused and not ambitiously seeking redress for every case of police torture. However, while the reparations for Burge survivors focus on a finite set of particularly egregious cases, they can still serve as a model in other cities. Ultimately, each process will be unique and place specific.  But Chicago’s journey provides some guideposts for municipalities to consider beyond changes in police policies that have left both victims and communities affected by racist police violence unable to heal.

There is no question that excessive force, in many instances amounting to torture, causes physical injuries and leaves psychological scars. As noted by sociologists Amanda Geller and Jeffrey Fagan in their study of the impacts of the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk practices, even less egregious forms of discriminatory policing cause significant individual and collective emotional harm.

Municipalities need not shoulder this burden alone. There are approximately 40 federally funded centers throughout the U.S. offering psychological treatment to torture survivors – but unfortunately, they are only permitted to provide services to people who have been tortured outside the U.S.  It is time for federal government to recognize that law enforcement officials torture people in the U.S. and that survivors need access to the same services we rightfully offer survivors of torture around the world.

Ultimately, Chicago’s approach to systemic racial harm offers a glimmer of a possible future in which the nation as a whole might finally grapple with reparations for the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and its direct descendant, mass incarceration, each of which echo through the Chicago Police Torture cases.

Joey Mogul is a partner at the People’s Law Office who has represented Burge torture survivors for the last 18 years.  Mogul co-founded the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and drafted the original reparations ordinance.

A smaller version of this piece appeared in Time.Com, along with the fierce thoughts of courageous Chicago Police torture survivor and activist Darrell Cannon.

City Council Makes History in Passing Reparations Legislation for Burge Torture Survivors

The Largest Gathering of Burge Torture Survivors Witnessed the Historic Vote

This morning Chicago Police torture survivors and their family members attended a Chicago City Council hearing to witness passage of historic legislation providing reparations for the torture they and scores of other African American men and women survived at the hands of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command.  Some of the torture survivors and family members traveled out of the City and State to attend the hearing.

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 a Citywide Teach-ins over the last six months to urge Mayor Emanuel to support the reparations ordinance.

“Over the course of the past 6 months, a coalition of individuals and groups organized tirelessly to achieve this goal. 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,” said Mariame Kaba, founder and executive director of Project NIA.

The reparations resolution represents the first time Chicago’s City Council has formally acknowledged and taken responsibility for the police torture that occurred in Chicago, and recognized its obligation to provide concrete redress to the survivors and family members.  In addition to the establishment of a $5.5 million Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims, the City will provide survivors and their families specialized counseling services at a center on the South side, free enrollment in City Colleges, and priority access to job training, housing and other city services. Additionally, a history lesson about the Burge torture cases will henceforth be taught in Chicago Public schools and a permanent public memorial will be erected to commemorate the torture and survivors.

“It is the first time that a municipality in the United States has ever offered reparations to those violated law enforcement officials,” said Joey Mogul, a co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, partner at the People’s Law Office and drafter of the original reparations ordinance. “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.”

The final legislation was the product of an agreement reached with Mayor Emanuel, CTJM and Amnesty International, USA on the eve of an April 14, 2015 hearing on the original reparations Ordinance introduced into City Council by Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard Brookins (21st Ward) in October of 2013.

While torture survivors, family members, and activists were pleased with the reparations package passed today, they noted that much more work needs to be done to address racially motivated police violence in the City of Chicago.

“Today is an important and historic day, and the result of a courageous, decades-long effort to seek justice. But this is not the end. We must make sure that this curriculum places torture under Burge in a broader context of ongoing and endemic police violence. We must expand counseling and treatment services so they’re available for all survivors of police violence. And more broadly, we must fight for an end not only to these horrific acts of torture, and police shootings of Black youth, but also against the daily police harassment and profiling of young people of color in Chicago and across the country,” said Page May, an organizer and activist with We Charge Genocide.

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.

Landmark Torture Reparations Agreement Announced at Historic City Council Hearing

People’s Law Office partners Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor, who are also members of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, and have represented many Chicago police torture survivors over the decades, were involved with CTJM and Amnesty International in the lengthy negotiations that brought the historic torture Reparations agreement with the City to fruition. Mogul and Taylor, who, together with torture survivors Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes, and several CTJM members testified at the April 14th hearing before the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee, released the following joint statement:

We are gratified, that after so many years of denial and cover-up by the Daley administration, Mayor Emanuel and his Corporation Counsel have recognized the needs of the torture survivors and their families and negotiated this historic reparations agreement with the survivors’ representatives. It is the first of its kind in this country, and its passage and implementation will go a long way to remove the longstanding stain of police torture from the conscience of the city.

For further information, see: Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, CTJM Statement.

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.

April 14 City Council Hearing on Torture Reparations Ordinance

A City Council Hearing on the Chicago Police Torture Reparations Ordinance has been scheduled!

Reparations Ordinance

Alderman Ed Burke, Chair of the Finance Committee, has announced that the committee will hold a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance on Tuesday, April 14 at 10 am. In recent months, People’s Law Office has joined with Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Amnesty International, BYP100, Chicago Light Brigade, Project NIA, and We Charge Genocide to organize marches, demonstrations, rallies, sing-ins, exhibition-ins, teach-ins and more to demand a hearing and passage of the ordinance; and our efforts are paying off.

As torture survivor and People’s Law Office client Darrell Cannon told the Sun-Times: “People power has a way of getting the attention of the hardest of hearts of politicians.”

To Catch a Torturer: One Attorney’s Pursuit of Jon Burge

To Catch A Torturer: One Attorney’s 28-year Pursuit of Racist Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge
By Flint Taylor of People’s Law Office
Originally published at In These Times

On February 13, 2015, former Chicago Police Commander Jon G. Burge was released from Federal custody, having served a little less than four years of his four-and-a-half year sentence for lying under oath about whether he tortured scores of African-American men during his time as commander. Less than a week before, I sat across from him in a small room in Tampa, Florida, questioning him, pursuant to a court order, yet again about his role in a torture case—this time, the case of Alonzo Smith, who was repeatedly suffocated with a plastic bag and beaten with a rubber nightstick in the basement of the Area 2 police station by two of Burge’s most violent henchmen after Burge informed him that they “would get him to talk, one way or another.”

Reading from a prepared script, the 67-year-old Burge, weakened by several physical ailments but nonetheless exhibiting a hostility that has marked our many encounters over the years, responded to my first question by once again invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. He then stood up, informed me that he would not respond to any further questions, and started to leave the room.

After I told him that he would be in violation of the judge’s order if he left before I had finished my questioning, he reluctantly returned, and asserted the Fifth Amendment to each and every subsequent question, including to the most damning one: Was the torture of Smith part of a pattern and practice of systemic and racist torture and abuse against African-American men which he orchestrated? After a contentious concluding exchange between us, a look of smug self-satisfaction came across his face as he answered my final question by stating, “I exercise my Fifth Amendment rights—even though I would like to say you are a liar.”

Of course the answer to that question of the systemic and racist nature of Burge’s torture is now well established by a mountain of evidence that has been assembled over nearly three decades in the teeth of an unremitting official cover-up that has implicated a series of police superintendents, numerous prosecutors, more than 30 police detectives and supervisors, and, most notably, Richard M. Daley, first as the State’s Attorney of Cook County, then as Chicago’s long-serving Mayor, in a police torture scandal that had spanned the more than 40 years that I had been a lawyer at the People’s Law Office.

A torturer in blue

My law partners, Jeffrey Haas and John Stainthorp, and I first became aware of Jon Burge and his connection to police torture in 1987 when Andrew Wilson, a convicted cop killer, called us from death row and asked us to represent him in the pro se lawsuit that he had filed against Burge and several of his associates at Area 2 Detective headquarters. Wilson’s allegations were chilling: suffocation with a bag, burns from a cigarette, beatings, and, most frightening, repeated electric shocks from a black shock box to his genitals, ears and fingers that caused him to be badly burned on a steam radiator across which he was handcuffed at the time he was shocked. With some trepidation, we took the case, and I was soon sitting across from Burge in a small conference room confronting him about his torture of Wilson.

At that time, Burge was at the height of his powers, having recently been promoted from Lieutenant to Commander, completing a meteoric rise in rank in the Chicago Police Department. Burly, red-faced and supremely arrogant, Burge had used his clout with the city to retain, at taxpayer’s expense, a former Deputy to then-State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley to represent him. Posturing as a hero for capturing Wilson and obtaining his confession, Burge vehemently denied any wrongdoing and scoffed at my persistent attempts to expose his lies.

In the winter of 1989, the Wilson civil case went to trial before a Judge, Brian Duff, who referred to Wilson in an off-the-record comment as the “scum of the earth.” Burge took the stand and I was once again thrust into the role of his interrogator.

After the first day of my cross examination, we received a voicemail at our office from an anonymous source. This source, whom we later dubbed “Deep Badge,” worked with Burge at Area 2 and supplied us with information which began the process of blowing the lid off the cover-up. Deep Badge informed us of another Burge electric shock victim, Melvin Jones; the names of Burge’s co-conspirators; and claimed that State’s Attorney Daley and Mayor Jane Byrne were aware of Wilson’s torture.

We sought to confront Burge before the jury with this newly discovered evidence, but the judge, while recognizing that this evidence was “explosive,” would not let me do so. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury, unaware of the unravelling cover-up, hung, necessitating a second trial.

While we awaited the re-trial, we pursued the leads given to us by “Deep Badge” and found a number of other torture victims who were serving time based on confessions tortured from them by Burge and his confederates. One of them was Anthony Holmes, who was tortured with electric shock by Burge just after he became a detective in 1973. Armed with this information, I again deposed Burge, who brazenly denied any misconduct in each and every one of the newly discovered cases. At the re-trial, Judge Duff denied us the right to confront Burge with these newly discovered cases, and when I tried to do so, the judge, egged on by Burge’s lawyer, repeatedly held me and my co-counsel in contempt.

As a result of the judge’s unremitting bias in favor of Burge and his lawyers, after an eight-week second trial, the all-white jury absolved Burge. We appealed the decision, and the evidence that we had uncovered compelled the Chicago Police Department to reopen its investigation into the Wilson case and to pursue the question of whether the torture was systemic.

The investigation produced two determinations: that Burge should be fired for his torture of Wilson, and that the torture at Area 2 was “systematic” and implicated command personnel. The Department moved to fire Burge—while suppressing the findings of systematic torture.

Targeted by Burge

During this period, the reality of personal risk became more apparent. Burge publicly called me an “idiot” in response to my testimony before the Chicago City Council, and his defense committee and the Fraternal Order of Police repeatedly mounted personal attacks against me and my law partners. A friendly police employee told us of an alleged threat that Burge had made to “blow us away.”

I spoke with another unnamed Burge associate on the phone who asserted that Burge had tortured innocent suspects and women, and an African-American former detective who worked in Area 2 clandestinely came to our office and told me about a Burge torture scene he had witnessed in 1973. Unknown to us at the time, Burge had enlisted one of his former associates to comb the Area 2 files in an attempt to discover the identity of Deep Badge. (I also learned from a neighbor that Burge had a boat. The neighbor had seen Burge cruising in Chicago’s Monroe Street Harbor; the boat was aptly named “The Vigilante.”)

Burge was brought to trial before the Chicago Police Board in the winter of 1992, amid a local furor that was occasioned by our successfully obtaining the public release of the CPD’s finding of systematic torture, a rally for Burge which attracted 3,000 cops and prosecutors and a boisterous counter rally that the Task Force to Confront Police Violence organized. Jeff Haas, who was a moving force in the Task Force, and I often attended the six-week Police Board hearing, at which Wilson, Jones and a third Burge victim all testified.

Burge took the stand and denied that he tortured these men, and we suffered Burge’s wrath when we publicly commented on the evidence. Nearly a year later, the Police Board issued its decision to fire Burge, and I was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying that “the person in charge of the systematic torture had been fired,” and that the department should “implement” the findings of systematic torture by “clean[ing] house.”

On the heels of the Police Board decision, the Fraternal Order of Police unsuccessfully attempted to honor Burge with a float in the St. Patrick Day’s Parade; a few weeks later, the Federal Appeals Court, citing Judge Duff’s refusal to permit the questioning of Burge before the jury about the other cases of torture, granted us a new trial in the Wilson case.

Burge relocated to Florida, the City of Chicago quietly permitting him to resign after his firing became final. As a result, in 1997, he began to collect his police pension. That same year, after a second appeal, we obtained a $1.1 million dollar settlement in the Wilson case.

Justice reform beyond police torture

At about this time, the struggle against police torture joined with the movement against the death penalty that was spearheaded by a group of death row prisoners who had been tortured by Burge and his men. These men, who called themselves the Death Row Ten, joined with lawyers, activists, and other foes of the death penalty and police torture in a unified effort that resulted in a death penalty moratorium, the appointment of a Cook County Special Prosecutor to investigate Burge’s crimes and, in 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan’s commutation of all Illinois death sentences and pardon of four of the Death Row Ten—Leroy Orange, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson and Stanley Howard—on the basis of innocence.

The innocence pardons permitted the four men to file law suits, and my law partner Joey Mogul and I became lead lawyers for two of them. This gave us an avenue to further investigate Burge and his confederates’ crimes. I journeyed to Florida, Arizona, Tennessee and several Illinois prisons to track down and to record the statements of numerous Burge torture survivors.

Accompanied by an investigator and a court reporter, I also convinced several retired African American Area 2 detectives to give sworn statements. In these statements, the detectives, who were excluded from the actual torture sessions, told of seeing Burge’s electric shock box, hearing the torture victims’ screams and participating in discussions about the torture which was sometimes referred to as the “Vietnam treatment.” They also recounted how Burge’s threats of violence and their fear of retribution—the police code of silence at work—kept them from coming forward until they had retired.

In the early stages of these four lawsuits, a still-arrogant Burge, with the blessing of a new generation of taxpayer funded private lawyers, answered under oath a series of written questions by again denying that he participated in, witnessed, or otherwise had knowledge of any acts of torture. Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 2004, I travelled to Tampa with an investigator (who also served as a de facto bodyguard) to obtain an order from a Florida judge (whose nickname, I soon learned, was “Dirty Harry”) to compel Burge to appear at torture survivor Darrell Cannon’s parole revocation hearing.

Outside of the courtroom, Burge, referencing the $1.1 million dollar Andrew Wilson settlement, which we had earned many times over after 10 years of intense legal struggle, told a Chicago Tribune reporter who had journeyed from Chicago that “you would think Taylor would retire after getting a million from the city,” implying that the principal aim of the cases exposing decades’ worth of racist torture by the police department of the third largest city in America was for some human rights attorneys to get rich.

After the court session, we traveled south to Apollo Beach in search of Burge’s house and a picture of The Vigilante. Our efforts alerted the local St. Petersburg newspaper to run a feature article about the alleged police torturer living quietly in their midst under the cloud of “accusations [that] are like something out of a wartime prison: electric shock and cattle prods; near suffocation with a typewriter bag; mock executions with a pistol.”

“Not unlike a Nazi war criminal”

On September 1, 2004, Burge appeared in Chicago to answer questions in a consolidated deposition in the four lawsuits and Cannon’s parole revocation hearing. The videotaped deposition was held in a mock courtroom in his lawyers’ downtown offices, and they smuggled Burge in through a back entrance to avoid an angry demonstration, the media and three process servers who were attempting to subpoena Burge to testify before the Special Prosecutors’ grand jury.

I questioned Burge for nearly four hours. Having received some prudently revised legal advice, he repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment to each and every question. After the tense interrogation concluded, I was quoted in the Sun-Times as saying, “We feel that we have finally in some way brought to the stand and brought to public questioning a police criminal, a criminal we felt we had to hunt down, not unlike a Nazi war criminal.”

Four years later, on October 21, 2008, I received an early morning phone call from the Assistant U.S. Attorney who was heading up the investigation into allegations that Burge committed perjury and obstructed justice when he denied under oath five years earlier that he had committed torture. He told me that Federal Agents had a warrant for Burge’s arrest on those charges and he would be arrested later that morning in Florida. After 20 years of pursuit, our efforts had finally hit paydirt.

Burge’s arrest was the culmination of decades of work that had intensified since Burge’s 2004 deposition. In 2005, Joey Mogul had journeyed to Geneva to present our case to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT), and, in May 2006, the CAT issued findings that called for U.S. prosecutions of Burge and his men. In summer 2006, the Special Prosecutor had refused to bring state charges of perjury and conspiracy against Burge and had instead issued what many considered to be a cover-up report. In response, 250 organizations and individuals signed a shadow report that exposed the whitewash and renewed the call for criminal charges.

In summer 2007, hearings were held before the Chicago City Council and the Cook County Board of Commissioners at which torture survivors testified and the deposition videotape of Burge taking the Fifth Amendment was played. In the aftermath of the hearings, both bodies called for Federal prosecutions. Early in 2008, the City paid a $19.8 million settlement to the four torture survivors whom Governor Ryan had pardoned in 2003.

In 2009, while Burge awaited trial on the perjury and obstruction charges, I found myself again in Dirty Harry’s Tampa courtroom, face-to-face with Burge, seeking his return to testify in a post-conviction case where it was alleged that he supervised the torture of a murder suspect. Burge, after telling the judge that he was heavily medicated for a back problem and intended to take the Fifth Amendment if returned to Chicago to testify, stated, “Your Honor, Mr. Taylor has been suing me and members of the Chicago Police Department, for over thirty (30) years. My personal feeling is this is strictly for harassment.”

After the court session concluded with the judge opining that he would not require Burge to return to Chicago, I packed up my briefcase and opened one of the heavy wooden double doors to leave the empty courtroom. At that instant, Burge, coming back into the courtroom, opened the other door, our eyes met. He said nothing, but I felt a chill run up my spine before he pushed past me.

A torturer, finally, in jail

In May and June 2010, Burge went on trial in Federal Judge Joan Lefkow’s Chicago courtroom. The prosecution presented evidence that included testimony from Anthony Holmes, Melvin Jones and Andrew Wilson, from a reluctant white detective who testified, under a grant of immunity, about witnessing one of Burge’s torture sessions, and from two of the black detectives who had first told their stories to me.

Other prosecution witnesses included several to whom Burge had bragged about his racially motivated torture, including a woman lawyer who had previously revealed to me her troubling tale that Burge, while drinking at a local bar, had articulated an utter disdain for criminal defendants’ constitutional rights while making sexually explicit comments to her and admitting to abusing Andrew Wilson. Burge took the stand and broke his silence to deny each and every allegation of torture, and in another chance encounter after closing arguments concluded, he cursed me out.

Burge then retired to a bar across the street from the courthouse to await the jury’s verdict. According to a former prosecutor who had made Burge’s acquaintance while attending the six week trial, Burge called him over and asked him whether he thought that the jury would “believe that bunch of niggers,” referring to the African-American torture survivors who had testified against him.

The jury did believe the survivors and found Burge guilty. In January 2011, Burge was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, and in March, he began to serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Center in Butner, North Carolina, alongside other high profile white-collar criminals including Bernie Madoff.

Since Burge’s indictment, several of Burge’s victims had been exonerated, including Michael Tillman and Ronald Kitchen, for whom we filed civil suits. After obtaining a court order in Tillman’s case Joey Mogul and I travelled to North Carolina to again depose Burge in May of 2011.

While it was not unusual for us to enter prisons to talk to clients, this passage through the metal detectors with Burge’s lawyers was decidedly different. Burge, dressed in brown prison garb, complained of the food and medical care, then proceeded to assert his Fifth Amendment right to all questions that I posed. The deposition was videotaped, and his “testimony” was featured in videos that we made to recount Tillman and Kitchen’s horrific stories of torture and wrongful convictions.

Bearing witness to Burge’s imprisonment, albeit not for his systemic torture, and capturing it on videotape, was an important event, one which I have often cited when speaking about police torture in Chicago. Burge was behind bars, while victims like Tillman and Kitchen and the torture survivors who courageously testified against Burge were all free.

But this victory, while both symbolic and real, and grounded on decades of struggle by an anti-racist movement, did not end the battle to bring a modicum of final justice to the survivors of police torture and healing to the African American community. That struggle continues to this day, seeking reparations for the survivors and new hearings for the men still imprisoned as a result of confessions tortured from them.

Meanwhile, a broken but still unrepentant Jon G. Burge wears the well-deserved mantle of former Chicago Police commander and notorious torturer.

Family of Roshad McIntosh, a Young Black Male Fatally Shot by Chicago Police Officers, Files Lawsuit Against City of Chicago

CHICAGO, March 4, 2015 – Today, the People’s Law Office held a press conference announcing the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police officers responsible for the fatal shooting of nineteen year-old Roshad McIntosh.  The case is brought on behalf of McIntosh’s 3-year old son. 

On Sunday, August 24, 2014, Roshad McIntosh was on the 2800 block of West Polk Street when Chicago police officers confronted him and his companions.  Roshad began to flee, but quickly surrendered at a neighboring residence.  Despite his surrender, Chicago police officers shot at Roshad, who was unarmed, without cause or provocation, and killed him.

Cynthia Lane, Roshad’s mother, stated: “I lost my son, he was taken from me.  I’m really hurt.  Roshad’s death has affected me emotionally in ways I never knew were possible.  The law suit will never bring him back; but it will help answer a lot of questions that we have.  Our family needs to know why they shot and killed him.” IMG_0258

The Chicago Police Department has yet to identify the officers responsible for Roshad’s death or release any information regarding investigation into the shooting.

Roshad’s death has been highlighted at BlackLivesMatter actions throughout the city.  He was killed just a few weeks after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which enraged the nation and set off nationwide protests over the killing of civilians by law enforcement officers and other systemic police violence against people of color.

The lawsuit alleges that Roshad’s death resulted from the City of Chicago’s failure to adequately train, supervise, and discipline officers who shoot civilians, and failure to thoroughly investigate police shootings.  This misconduct is allowed to continue unchecked due in large part to a police code of silence which serves to protect police officers who violate the Constitution.    

Data demonstrates that over the last decade, black Chicagoans were ten times more likely to be shot by Chicago police officers than white Chicagoans.  Furthermore in the first six months of 2014, 23 of 27 people who were shot by a Chicago police officer were black.  To make matters worse, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) rarely holds police officers accountable for their misconduct.  From late 2007 to July of 2014, IPRA investigated approximately 312 shootings by Chicago police officers. Of the investigations of “officer involved shootings” that were completed, only one officer was found to have violated any department rules.

 “The death of Roshad McIntosh was beyond tragic and is unjustifiable.  It is unconscionable that the City of Chicago continues to fight transparency and shield the wrongdoing of their police officers instead of thoroughly investigating this and other instances of police violence,” said Sarah Gelsomino, a lawyer with People’s Law Office representing the family of Roshad McIntosh.  “This lawsuit seeks not only justice for the family of Roshad McIntosh but to finally bring to light the circumstances of Roshad’s death, which the CPD has kept hidden from his family and from the public.” 

Click here to view the complaint.