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.

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.


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

Chicago, IL – 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.


Super Lawyers Interview with Michael Deutsch

The Atticus of Attica

By Beth Taylor
Published in: 2015 Illinois Super Lawyers — February 2015

From rioting prisoners to Black Panthers to animal-rights defenders, Michael E. Deutsch has been on the front line of the fight for civil rights

Q: What were the roots of your civic activism?

A: I didn’t really become an activist until I got to law school. I graduated [Northwestern] in ’69, right at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Then I became a law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The Chicago conspiracy trial was going on; these anti-war activists were put on trial for crossing state lines to encourage riots—basically to encourage demonstrations against the war.

It was a very colorful trial, and the defendants were from different parts of the anti-war movement; one was a leader of the Black Panthers. I used to go down there and watch. There was this judge, Julius Hoffman, who was very against the defendants. There was a lot of commotion and a lot of acting out and drama in the courtroom. I became very immersed in wanting to become a lawyer who represents people who are fighting injustice, and [in] working for people’s rights.

I joined a group of lawyers—which I still am part of—called the People’s Law Office, which started in 1969 and is still going strong 45 years later. We represent people who are victims of police abuse and police brutality. We also are very involved in uncovering people who have been wrongfully convicted and have been in prison a long period of time. We’ve been able to free many people from prison.

My first jury trial was on behalf of Black Panthers in southern Illinois who had been attacked by the police and shot back. They were acquitted of 47 counts of attempted murder. So that was a great way to start your legal career.

Then what really influenced my commitment was the Attica prisoners’ rebellion, which happened in September of 1971. I was one of several lawyers who came from different places to represent the Attica prisoners who, by the time I got involved, had been beaten and a lot of them shot, and the prison retaken. We were trying to get them medical care and equal rights.

The state of New York was willing to sacrifice its own guards, who were being held hostage, in order to put down this prison rebellion, even though it could have been negotiated. When they stormed the prison and shot—like a turkey shoot—they killed nine of the hostages. They originally said the hostages had died because their throats had been cut, and of course the coroner determined that they had all been killed by state police bullets.

I helped to organize the legal defense of over 60 prisoners who were facing 1,400 felony counts. We organized a group called the Attica Brothers Legal Defense and I moved to Buffalo, New York, where it was based. I spent the next four or five years going back and forth from Chicago to Buffalo. Ultimately we brought a civil rights case on behalf of the [prisoners] who were killed and tortured after they took over the prison.

I realized, working on the Attica case, how important it was to stand up for people in prison and how bad the conditions and treatment of prisoners were. That was really the cause of the Attica rebellion. I realized that I could walk away from these situations, but those people in prison or the people who were victims of injustice couldn’t. So I made a commitment that that was going to be my life’s work: to expose injustice and fight for equal rights of people.

Q: What was the outcome of the Attica lawsuit?

A: We won at trial for one of the prisoners for $4 million, then that was taken away by the Court of Appeals. But ultimately, we settled the case for $12 million for the victims of Attica.

Q: Have any of your cases taken you before the U.S. Supreme Court?

A: In 1980, I appeared in a case called Carlson v. Green, which was the case that established the right to sue directly under the Eighth Amendment for damages for cruel and unusual punishment.

I represented a black man who died in a Terre Haute, Indiana, federal prison. He was the fourth man to die in the prison hospital within an eight-month period. This man was suffering from a terrible asthma attack; the doctor refused to come, even though he lived on the prison property. After several hours of him fighting for breath, the doctor said, “Give him some Thorazine.” That’s contraindicated for someone who’s having trouble breathing, and he died.

We brought a case for cruel and unusual punishment—basically a denial of medical care. The government said, “You can’t bring a case directly under the Eighth Amendment; it doesn’t provide for a private cause of action.” That case established that right. It was 7-2.

Q: What was it like arguing before the Supreme Court?

A: It’s very intimidating in a way, but I believed very strongly in the case and I had a very strong factual situation. I’m told that Thurgood Marshall kind of poked the judge sitting next to him and said, “Look at this guy; he really believes in his case.”

Then the most interesting thing: Right in the middle of my argument, they bang the gavel and say, “It’s lunchtime.” So they get up and leave. Which is good, in a way, because then I had a whole lunch period to plan the rest of my argument. But it was so shocking. As soon it’s 12 o’clock, no matter what, they just bang the gavel and they get up and leave.

Q: Which justices dissented?

A: Then-Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice [William] Rehnquist. I recall that Justice Burger was very negative.

Q: Was it an intimidating experience?

A: The lead-up is intimidating: “I’m going to argue in front of the Supreme Court; they’re going to ask me a lot of questions. Am I going to do a good job?” But for me, I’m always very nervous whenever I go into court, no matter what. And I’ve been doing it for all these years. But as soon as I get in there and I lose myself in the struggle and I find a way to express my belief in my client and the issues in the case, nerves dissipate. I was fired up.

Q: Any other cases that really stand out?

A: A case that I’ve done on behalf of a prisoner in Indiana who was on death row and 30 days away from being executed. After many years of fighting for him, and winning once and losing once in the Indiana Supreme Court … they agreed to take the death penalty off the table, and he’ll be eligible for release in two years. He was a young black man who was accused of being involved in a bank robbery in which a police officer was killed.

Q: You also worked for two decades, starting in 1975, on behalf of the Puerto Rican independence movement.

A: I represented Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. courts and helped to obtain their freedom and clemency from President Jimmy Carter. I also represented Puerto Rican activists from Chicago and New York who were accused of being terrorists who were involved in clandestine work on behalf of independence. I have also testified before the U.N. decolonization committee and in other international tribunals in support of Puerto Rican independence.

Q: What changes have you seen in our society over the years?

A: One of the things that I’ve been involved with in the last 10 years is representing people accused of being terrorists.

I’ve been representing Palestinian-Americans who have been accused of giving money to people in the occupied territories and charged with providing what they call material support for terrorism. [In] one of the cases I had in Chicago, two Palestinian men, who were from Chicago, were accused of RICO [racketeering and corruption] for being part of an organization in Palestine. [Prosecutors were] saying that was a racketeering-influenced organization. Of course, the jury didn’t buy that; after a long trial, they acquitted them of everything but minor charges.

I’ve seen the courts used, in my view, to repress political activity; to over-punish people. I’ve been involved with a lot of work around the rights of prisoners and challenging high-security units. We brought lawsuits challenging keeping people locked up, basically being evaluated as threats to the institution and then being put in these units for indefinite periods of time—for two, three, four, five years in segregation. No way to get out, and no due process for getting in.

I’ve done some work for animal rights people who have been involved in releasing minks and other animals that are in these fur farms and being treated very badly. And, of course, now they’re accused of terrorism. There’s a statute called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act which makes it a crime, a terrorist crime, to free animals or do any kind of protest about the treatment of animals that interferes with these industrial animal farms.

They have been using RICO in political situations when it was supposed to be used only against organized crime, and that’s what they’ve used with terrorism too. They’ve expanded that use to use it against people who don’t fit the definition of terrorism. Just this year, I represented, with two other lawyers, these young men. My client was just 21 years old; he had come from Florida to be part of the anti-NATO demonstrations because the NATO summit was in Chicago this summer, and they were part of demonstrating and actually causing some kind of vandalism. They were found by these two undercover Chicago police who were encouraging them to take further steps beyond just minor vandalism and talking to them about making Molotov cocktails. Before they did anything—they never were able to do anything—they arrested them and charged them with terrorism.

This was the first time, under Illinois law, they used the terrorism statute since it was passed after 9/11. [They] charged these young guys with providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit terrorism. We had a long trial in the state court in Chicago and they were convicted of lesser charges. But the terrorism charges were rejected by the jury, which basically said, “We don’t think this is terrorism. These are just young guys who went over the line but certainly aren’t terrorists.”

[In another] case, two young men are accused of freeing minks in Illinois and Iowa, and they’re charged with this Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. It may be against the law, and maybe they can indict them, but why call it terrorism? I’ve found that, if you have a jury and you start talking about terrorism, either they’re going to see it and say, “Well, it’s really not terrorism,” like they said with those NATO kids, or they’re going to be influenced by that and not be able to really fairly look at the evidence. It’s a very prejudicial kind of charge.

I’ve done a lot of work representing people who are subpoenaed to grand juries, and wrote a long law review article in 1984 that’s still being quoted by people who are opposing grand juries about how the power of the grand jury is being abused by the federal government—being usurped by federal prosecutors when the grand jury is supposed to be an independent institution.

Q: Are you seeing a lot of repercussions from what’s going on with ISIS?

A: The FBI is concerned that there are people who have gone from the U.S. over to fight with that group and other groups in Syria. The FBI is very active in terms of investigating and surveilling the Arab and Muslim communities in Chicago and in New York as well.

I’m involved in a case right now in Detroit where a Palestinian woman, who’s 67 years old—lived in this country for 20 years—was arrested because they said 10 years ago when she filled out her naturalization papers, they asked her if she was ever arrested, convicted or imprisoned, and she filled out “no, no, no.” It turns out 45 years ago, in 1969 when she was a 22-year-old student, she was allegedly involved in resistance to the new occupation when the Israelis went into Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. She was put into a military tribunal that they set up, she was horrifically tortured, and she was found guilty of being involved in resistance activities against the Israel occupation.

She’s been in this country 20 years. The reason, I believe, they brought these charges is because she’s very active in the Palestinian community in Chicago and part of the Arab American Action Network. We’re saying it’s politically motivated.

Q: You are a past legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

A: It was started [in 1966] by lawyers who were involved in the civil rights movement in the South. One of the founders was William Kunstler, who was a well-known civil rights lawyer; [also] Arthur Kinoy and others. They set up this office in New York, and over the years it’s expanded to be involved in international human rights, women’s rights, labor rights, all kinds of different work on behalf of people who are fighting for justice in the courts.

From 1991 to 1996 I was fortunate enough to be the legal director of that institution. We had about 10 lawyers and we had a lot of cooperating lawyers who would donate their services to work on a civil rights case with the center. It’s still going strong; it was very involved in challenging the people who were put in Guantanamo and got some good opinions from the Supreme Court about that.

I was involved in several cases when I was there. One that I was proud of was getting an injunction against preventing homeless people, who were getting harassed and beaten up in Penn Station. The police would see them as homeless and jump on them and throw them out. The court said they had a right to be there and to stop any type of abuse and harassment.

Q: What do you like the best and least about your job?

A: I like fighting for people’s rights and exposing injustice. Having to be creative about how to present people’s cases to juries, basically. The thing I like least is being in front of judges who are not open-minded and are basically so pro-prosecution or pro-government that they won’t listen to reasonable arguments.

Q: What has changed in the legal arena since 1969?

A: The law has become more restrictive and the judiciary has become more conservative. Of course, I came at the time of the Warren court. After Attica, there was a period of time in which courts were trying to give prisoners constitutional rights and protect their conditions and treatment. [Recently] we’ve seen a more conservative court, both in the federal district court level and, of course, in the Supreme Court. Also, I think we’ve seen a rollback on certain basic civil rights that were being protected when I first started practicing. Even in the criminal defense field, it’s much harder to defend people, and the law has restricted some of the rights of people who are accused of crimes. We have the influx of mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws. When Attica happened, there were 200,000 people in state and federal prisons—that was in 1971, 1972. Today we have like 2.5 million.

This idea that we could somehow deal with crime by locking up more people for longer periods of time, that was the ethic that kind of took over—particularly the war on drugs and this idea that we needed to be harsher and [offer] less rehabilitation in prisons.

Q: Do you see this trend continuing?

A: The pendulum is starting to swing slowly back the other way—I think because of the financial problems that we’re experiencing. I don’t think there’s a strong sentiment among legislatures or judges that, “Oh, we’ve locked up too many people and we’re being too harsh.” But we’re spending too much money on prisons … and that’s what I think is causing the pendulum to slowly move back.

The federal sentencing guidelines are not mandatory anymore—judges can look at them but they don’t have to follow them in federal court. That’s a good development. There are rulings by federal judges about keeping people locked up indefinitely in isolation units; they’re starting to say that mentally ill people shouldn’t be kept isolated. So there’s a beginning of some liberalizing or progressive movement, but it’s slow. The pendulum has swung so far the other way, it’s going to take a while to swing back. But I’m optimistic.

15 Practical Proposals of Attica Prisoners


Practical Proposals

1. Apply the New York State minimum wage law to all state institutions. STOP SLAVE LABOR.

2. Allow all New York State prisoners to be politically active, without intimidation or reprisals.

3. Give us true religious freedom.

4. End all censorship of newspapers, magazines, letters, and other publications coming from the publisher.

5. Allow all inmates, at their own expense, to communicate with anyone they please.

6. When an inmate reaches conditional release date, give him a full release without parole.

7. Cease administrative resentencing of inmates returned for parole violations.

8. Institute realistic rehabilitation programs for all inmates according to their offense and personal needs.

9. Educate all correctional officers to the needs of the inmates, i.e., understanding rather than punishment.

10. Give us a healthy diet, stop feeding us so much pork, and give us some fresh fruit daily.

11. Modernize the inmate education system.

12. Give us a doctor that will examine and treat all inmates that request treatment.

13. Have an institutional delegation comprised of one inmate from each company authorized to speak to the institution administration concerning grievances


14. Give us less cell time and more recreation with better recreational equipment and facilities.

15. Remove inside walls, making one open yard, and no more segregation or punishment.

Declaration and 5 Demands of Attica

Declaration to the People of America
By the inmates at Attica

SEPTEMBER 9, 1971 – read by L.D. Barkley

The People of the United States of America: first of all we want it to be known that in the past we have had some very, very, treacherous experiences with the Department of Correction of New York State. They have promised us many things and they are giving us nothing except more of what we’ve already got: brutalization and murder inside this penitentiary. We do not intend to accept to allow ourselves to accept this situation again. Therefore, we have composed this declaration to the People of America to let them know exactly how we feel and what it is that they must do and what we want primarily, not what someone else wants for us. We’re talking about what we want. There seems to be a little misunderstanding about why this incident developed here at Attica and this declaration here will explain the reason: The entire incident that has erupted here at Attica is not a result of the dastardly bushwhacking of the two prisoners, September 8, 1971, but of the unmitigated oppression wrought by the racist administrative network of this prison throughout the year. We are men. We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace, that means each and every one of us here, have set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed. We will not compromise on any terms except those terms that are agreeable to us. We’ve called upon all the conscientious citizens of America to assist us in putting an end to this situation that threatens the lives of not only us, but of each and every one of you, as well. We have set forth demands that will bring us closer to the reality of the demise of these prison institutions that serve no useful purpose to the people of America, but to those who would enslave and exploit the people of America.

Our demands are such:

1. We want complete amnesty, meaning freedom from all and any physical, mental and legal reprisals.

2. We want now, speedy and safe transportation out of confinement to a non-imperialistic country.

3. We demand that the Federal Government intervene, so that we will be under direct Federal Jurisdiction.

4. We want the Governor and the Judiciary, namely Constance B. Motley, to guarantee that there will be no reprisals and we want all factions of the media to articulate this.

5. We urgently demand immediate negotiations through William M. Kunstler, Attorney at Law, 588 9th Avenue, New York, New York; Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve of Buffalo; the Prisoner Solidarity Committee of New York; Minister Farrakan of the Muslims. We want Huey P. Newton from the Black Panther Party and we want the Chairman of the Young Lords Party. We want Clarence B. Jones of the Amsterdam News. We want Tom Wicker of the New York Times. We want Richard Roth from the Currier Express. We want the Fortune Society; Dave Anderson of the Urban League of Roch ester; Brine Eva Barnes; We want Jim Hendling of the Democratic Late Chronicle of Detroit, Michigan. We guarantee the safe passage of all people to and from this institution. We invite all the people to come here and witness this degradation so that they can better know how to bring this degradation to an end. This is what we want.

—The Inmates of Attica Prison


Embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Weighs in on New Orleans Police Monitor: Submitted to HP and CST

By G. Flint Taylor


During a week in which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disapproval rate on two racially charged local issues skyrocketed, he found time to write a glowing letter to Federal District Judge Susie Morgan in support of former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard’s bid to become the monitor of the sweeping consent decree that the Department of Justice has obtained to oversee the New Orleans Police Department.

The 122 page decree comprehensively deals with issues of police use of deadly force; supervision, training and discipline; gender bias, domestic violence and sexual assault; arrests, searches and custodial interrogations; crisis intervention; and secondary employment. The decree also provides for transparency, oversight, and community involvement in the form of an interdisciplinary Criminal Justice Coordination Group, a Police-Community Advisory Board, a community based Restorative Justice Project, comprehensive audits, data collection and analysis, and an independent monitor, jointly selected by the parties and approved by the court. Judge Morgan entered the decree this January, and has set a fifth public hearing on the contested question of the monitor for the Superdome on May 28th.

After unsuccessfully trying to back out of the decree, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed Hillard as the City’s choice for monitor. New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell contacted me to investigate Hillard’s qualifications for the job. In response, I wrote a letter that attorney Howell, who has been courageously fighting against police brutality in New Orleans for more than 35 years, presented with her public comment. The letter set forth Hillard’s role in the continuing cover-up of the Chicago police torture scandal:

When Hillard became the Superintendent in 1998, the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS), after more than a decade of police cover-up and denial, had made an official determination that there was systematic police torture of African American suspects that was led by Police Commander Jon Burge which included the use of electric shock, suffocation, and mock executions; Burge had been fired; and OPS investigators had made specific disciplinary findings that Burge’s “right hand men” had tortured a number of suspects. Hillard’s top aide, rather than acting on these disciplinary findings, summarily overturned them, an act that Hillard expressly ratified. When more than 50 community groups and civic leaders asked him to reverse his decision and mandate an independent investigation, Hillard refused to do so. This conduct led to a continuation of the cover-up and wrongful imprisonment of numerous African-American men for another decade. These actions also provided the basis for Hillard and his aide’s inclusion as defendants in no fewer than five federal court torture/wrongful conviction cases, three of which have been settled for a total of approximately $17,000,000, while the other two are still pending.

The letter also recounted Hillard’s role in two other Chicago high profile cases where he approved the wrongful arrests of two young boys for the murder and rape of 11 year old Ryan Harris and the subsequent arrest of 800 demonstrators who were peacefully protesting the start of the Iraq war.

In response, Hillard solicited a number of letters including from Mayor Emanuel, longtime powerful Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, and former CPD Deputy Superintendent Charles Ramsey. Emanuel, who wrote “as Mayor, a publicly elected official, and as a private citizen,” highlighted his recent appointment of Hillard as chair of the public safety committee in charge of facilitating the highly unpopular closing of 54 Chicago Public Schools. Emanuel also touted Hillard’s “personal integrity and high professional standards” and his confidence that, that, as monitor, Hillard would “play a crucial leadership role” in “helping the people of New Orleans begin to regain trust in their Police Department and the new practices of constitutional policing that will ultimately transform it.”

These letters did not sit well with two longtime veterans of the battles against police brutality and corruption in Chicago. In his public comment, Howard Saffold, a founding member and past president of the African American Police League who acted as the Coordinator of Security for Mayor Harold Washington, recounted how he was compelled to remove Hillard from his security staff, and shined a light on Hillard’s powerful advocates:

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no track record of Hillard, or those who have written in his support, advocating public policy changes in Chicago. It is a sad fact that retaliation from the desk of some of those powerful letter writers still rules here and silences voices of change. In fact, the all-powerful Ed Burke was one of the leaders of the 29 white aldermen who unsuccessfully sought to drive Mayor Harold Washington from power during his first term, and Charles Ramsey was Deputy Superintendent during a period where his direct supervisor, Superintendent Leroy Martin, was actively covering up findings of “systematic” police torture.

In her public comment, Mary Powers, longtime coordinator of Citizens Alert, a Chicago organization which has fought for police accountability for more than four decades, raised Citizen Alert’s “most serious concern” which arose from “Mr. Hillard’s consistent stonewalling of community requests that he employ the authority of his office to reopen investigations of systematic torture by Jon Burge and CPD officers under his command” and “substantially contributed to the continuation of a decades long police torture scandal.”

Historically, New Orleans has been a sister city to Chicago when it comes to a long standing tradition of racially motivated police torture, deadly brutality, and systemic cover-up. In a certain sense then, it should not surprising that New Orleans would seek a kindred spirit from Chicago to “monitor” its Department. Unfortunately, it is also not be surprising that the City’s Mayor and most powerful Alderman would attempt to swing some good old fashioned Chicago clout to help their sister city in police crime. Like their very unpopular move to close 54 Chicago public schools, their war with the Chicago Teacher’s Union, their refusal to apologize to the African American community on behalf of the City for decades of police torture, and their continued funding of Jon Burge’s defense, Emanuel and Burke’s advocacy for Terry Hillard is yet another galling manifestation of their abiding lack of respect for Chicago’s African American community.

Racism, Torture and Impunity in Chicago

By G. Flint Taylor

This article appeared in the March 11-18, 2013 edition of The Nation.

In Chicago, Black History Month is a time when some of us reflect on one of our poorest kept secrets, an ongoing injustice born of brutal, systemic racism, which has spread over a generation and whose stain is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city.

Forty years ago, a rookie Chicago police detective named Jon Burge tortured Anthony Holmes using electric shock and suffocation, causing him to crawl on the floor in pain. Lacing this torture with racial epithets, Burge initiated a pattern of dehumanizing abuse that would terrorize at least 120 African American men, their families, and the black community for the next 20 years. This pattern was marked not only by its uniquely brutal tactics, but also by its overtly racist motivation. Burge referred to his notorious electric shock device as the “nigger box,” routinely used the term “nigger” as part of his torture routine, and also used the term to describe his victims in boasting conversations with friends and even casual acquaintances. One day, when asked by an acquaintance about his work investigating homicides, he remarked that he had been “dealing with dead niggers all day.” His “right hand men,” Sgt. John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan, also repeatedly used the term, including during interrogations, introducing the plastic cover used for suffocation by saying that they “had something special for niggers,” and threatening to hang another suspect by pointing to a noose hanging from the basement ceiling and saying they “hang niggers around here all the time.” Burge and his confederates often focused their torture and brutality on the genitals of their victims.

This blatant racism is highlighted by two pending civil rights damages lawsuits brought under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, in which two wrongfully convicted torture survivors allege that their torture was the result of a racially motivated police conspiracy. In Darrell Cannon’s case, Byrne and Dignan informed him that they had “a scientific way to interrogate niggers,” then proceeded to take him to a remote area, and repeatedly electric shocked him on the genitals while using the racial slur so frequently that Cannon recalls thinking “that was my name.” In Ronald Kitchen’s case, Burge and detective Michael Kill beat him and kicked him in the genitals while racially taunting him. When later asked, under oath, how often he used the “n-word,” Kill proudly replied “more than a million times.”

Local historians, including African American history professor Adam Green at the University of Chicago, have linked this racially based torture to the brutality of slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow. The parallels in the nature and focus of the brutality are undeniable. So too the selection of African American commanders chosen for their subservience who looked the other way when they heard the anguished screams of the torture victims, and actively participated in the cover-up. African American detectives were kept in line by strict enforcement of the police code of silence, and when they complained of Burge’s racism to their Commander, Burge threatened them with retaliation. Several of these detectives heard rumors that Burge was a Ku Klux Klan member in Indiana. So black detectives under Burge remained silent, coming forward to acknowledge the “open secret” only when they retired decades later.

The CookCountyprosecutor’s office not only countenanced and facilitated the racist pattern of torture; it also aggressively used the confessions so produced to wrongfully convict scores of African American men, sending a dozen to death row.  Some of these prosecutors kept a scorecard of their “accomplishments,” comparing the weights of their convicted defendants in a competition called “nigger by the pound.”

Richard M Daley’s long term involvement in the torture scandal is now well known. As Mayor he scorned all opportunities to apologize, and paid millions of public dollars to continue to defend against this undeniable record of racism. In 2006, special prosecutors given $7 million in public monies to investigate Burge and his men, somehow managed never to mention the racist nature of the torture in their 192 page report. And when Burge was finally put on trial in 2010 — not for the torture itself but for lying about it — his lawyers successfully kept any mention of racism out of the record. While waiting for the jury to return a verdict, Burge asked a courtroom observer whether the jury would really “believe that bunch of niggers,” apparently referring to the courageous men who had testified against him. One of those men was  Melvin Jones, to whom Burge rhetorically posed a similar question while torturing him with electric shocks 30 years earlier.

Last summer the Chicago City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed off on a settlement for another torture survivor, Michael Tillman, who was exonerated in 2010.  It was the perfect chance for the mayor to apologize on behalf of the city to the African American community that helped elect him. He chose not to do so. Instead, picking up where the Daley administration left off, the mayor has continued to fund Burge’s defense, paying private lawyers a total of $3.8 million to date in the Cannon and Kitchen cases alone. Incredibly, in the Kitchen case, the lawyers the Emanuel Administration has chosen to represent Burge are the very same lawyers a federal judge has found to have practiced “deliberate,” “purposeful,” and “invidious” “racially based” discrimination during jury selection in another wrongful conviction case.

Burge is now serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence in federal prison, where he continues to receive his pension on the taxpayers’ dime. None of his co-conspirators have been held accountable. At the same time, scores of torture survivors remain locked behind bars, serving significantly longer sentences for crimes to which they confessed while being brutalized. If Black History Month is to mean anything in a city like Chicago, our leaders must finally own up to this racist legacy—or they, too, will be remembered for covering it up.

‘Englewood Four’ say city, police ignored evidence that could have cleared them


Thursday, November 15, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times 

People’s Law Office attorneys, together with the MacArthur Justice Center, today filed a damages lawsuit on behalf of Terrill Swift, one of the Englewood Four, alleging that he was framed, at the age of 17, by several notorious Chicago police detectives, including Kenneth Boudreau and James Cassidy, for crimes he did not commit.

The following is a Chicago Sun-Times article, written by staff reporter Jon Seidel, detailing this case.

‘Englewood Four’ say city, police ignored evidence that could have cleared them

Terrill Swift and his “brothers” — Harold Richardson, Michael Saunders and Vincent Thames — all spent much of their lives in prison for a rape and murder they didn’t commit.

DNA evidence cleared them. A judge overturned their convictions one year ago, freeing Richardson and Saunders after they spent more than 17 years behind bars. Swift and Thames, who served more than a dozen years for the 1994 murder and rape of Nina Glover, had already been released.

Now the men, known as the Englewood Four, are all going back to court. Their lawyers said Thursday they’re filing lawsuits against the City of Chicago, a Cook County prosecutor and several city police detectives who they said ignored evidence that linked Johnny “Maniac” Douglas, a career criminal, to Glover’s murder. It was his DNA, linked to Glover’s body, that finally exonerated the men.

“This is Chapter Two in a long battle,” Swift said.

The men also claim a code of silence within the Chicago Police Department led to their false convictions. Their lawsuits come just two days after attorneys for a female bartender beaten by a former Chicago cop in 2007 said they won a verdict from a federal jury by proving the existence of that code of silence.

“We didn’t see any detectives come forward and say that these men were the wrong men,” said Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office. “They went and continued to stand behind their coercion and their fabrication, so the code of silence was at work very much so in these cases.”

A spokesman for the city’s law office didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

The men were just teens, ranging in age from 15 to 18, when they were arrested for Glover’s murder. Her naked body was found Nov. 7, 1994, in a Dumpster behind the Family Super Mart Liquor Store at 1400 W. Garfield, wrapped in a bloody sheet, lawyers said. An autopsy found she’d been strangled to death.

Lawyers said police found Douglas — the “real murderer” — at the scene and even interviewed him. But they said police let him go and focused instead on the four teens. Swift said that led to him and his friends being “abducted” from their lives and families.

“Straight to the point, we were young black youth in urban communities,” Swift said. “We were, again, abducted. Maybe the mind-state was, we’ll get them off the street now. They’ll do something later. We were young, black, I don’t want to use the ‘N’ word, but, hey, they didn’t give us a chance. We were taken away for that reason.”

Stuart Chanen, Thames’ lawyer from the Valorem Law Group, said Douglas went on to kill at least one more woman after Glover’s death. Douglas, now dead, was arrested 83 times and earned 38 convictions between July 1980 and April 1998, the attorneys said.

But lawyers said police used “deceit, intimidation and threats” to force a confession from each of the teens, allegedly beating on one’s chest with a phone book and a flashlight. The officers are also accused of ripping an earring out of Saunders’ ear and threatening to take him to the railroad tracks behind the police station to shoot him.

Swift said he and the others are not filing the lawsuits for financial gain.

“We want you to make a change in how you interrogate us,” Swift said.

Adjusting to life since their release from prison has been a challenge, Swift said. He now has a job in Bolingbrook, but something as simple as finding a place to live can be difficult.

“People want to know, why don’t you have credit?” Swift said. “And I don’t want to tell everybody what I went through. But you have to at times, because it’s a big void in there.”

Thames now lives and works in Paducah, Ky. Richardson has earned his GED, and Saunders is looking for work.

When prosecutors announced in January they wouldn’t pursue another trial, Swift said he was still bitter about the time he spent in prison. He said Thursday that feeling will always be there.

“But like I said then, you can’t let the bitterness continue to control you,” Swift said. “You just have to continue to move forward.

The Police Code of Silence: What Will Mayor Emanuel Do?

By Flint Taylor, Civil Rights Attorney at People’s Law Office
Also Appears on Huffington Post

 When an all-white federal jury found that Chicago police officer Anthony Abbate was acting pursuant to a widespread and persistent police code of silence when he brutally beat a diminutive female bartender, it sent a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his police superintendent, and the city’s corporation counsel that fundamental and systemic reform, from the top down, is required in order to change the police culture that has made the police code of silence a Chicago institution.

The overwhelming record of extreme brutality, unfailingly followed by police silence, lies, and coverup, has been spread upon the public record in a parade of civil rights cases that have been litigated in the Chicago federal courts during the past 45 years. The rampant brutality that marked the 1968 Democratic Convention was followed by false denials in testimony from untold numbers of Chicago police officers and supervisors.

The next year Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed during a pre-dawn police raid, and the entire command structure of the CPD, working in unison with the Cook County State’s Attorney, perpetrated a massive cover-up that spanned a decade and further illuminated the code of silence. Only three years later, Jon Burge started a torture ring at Area 2 detective headquarters, and the documented cases of Burge related police torture, now some 117 in number, followed him as he rose to commander during the next two decades.

His meteoric rise, as well as the systemic torture itself, was made possible by a code of silence so widespread that it not only has kept scores of detectives silent to this day, but has also extended to several successive police superintendents and former Mayor Richard M. Daley himself.

The Abbate case is but the most recent extreme example of a police code of silence so embedded within the department that it permeates nearly every complaint of police brutality and misconduct.

A precious few officers have risked their lives and careers by breaking the code. Former Area 2 Detective Frank Laverty is the most shining example. In the early 1980s, Laverty came forward to save the life of an innocent black teenager who was on trial for a murder he did not commit. Laverty had uncovered the real perpetrator of the crime, but Laverty’s commander and several fellow detectives had buried the evidence in a secret “street file” that was routinely kept by detectives. Laverty’s heroic act freed the teenager and exposed the CPD’s illegal “street file” practice, but earned him physical threats from Burge and several of Laverty’s fellow detectives, and a demotion to the job of watching police recruits give urine samples.

This blood chilling example of the code of silence at work was not lost on the police rank and file. In 1989, when a fellow Area 2 detective came forward to detail for the first time the systematic and racist nature of Burge’s torture ring, he did so in anonymous letters to People’s Law Office lawyers, saying that he wanted the letters to remain private because he “did not wish to be shunned like Officer Laverty has been since he cooperated with you.”

This Burge colleague has never been identified. Several African-American Area 2 detectives who had general knowledge about the torture ring remained silent until their retirement two decades later.

In 2008, one white Area 2 detective, when threatened with indictment, reluctantly told the Federal Grand Jury about witnessing Burge torture a black suspect, but the code of silence again reared its ugly head when he attempted to retreat from his prior testimony during Burge’s 2010 perjury trial. No other officer has ever come forward. Instead close to 50 officers have denied any knowledge of the torture ring, and, more recently, a majority of them has chosen to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

The mayor and his corporation counsel have shown, to date, little interest in taking the decisive steps required to change the police culture that perpetrates the code. Instead they continue to defend torture, wrongful conviction and other police misconduct cases by employing the implicated officers’ use of the code to deny responsibility. Similarly the police disciplinary agency, (IPRA) ignores the code of silence, almost always taking the word of the accused officer and his confederates over the victim, in order to absolve the accused from discipline.

The evidence of a widespread, top to bottom, police code of silence has now been confirmed by the verdict of a federal jury. The city, however, rather than heeding the verdict, immediately issued astatement that it “strongly disagreed with the verdict” and vowed to appeal, while the mayor has already passed the buck to his police superintendent.

Once again, it appears to be “business as usual” when it comes to police brutality, the code of silence, and official cover-up in Chicago.