In the wake of the deadliest prison riot in U.S. history, a group of radical, young lawyers banded together to defend the inmates. It became a lifelong commitment, and an experience still profoundly affecting their lives.
This speech Initially was presented on August 25, 2021 at a gathering of peace groups in Chicago, IL by People’s Law Office Attorney Michael Deutsch
Next month there will be remembrances and memorials across this country about the people who lost their lives here on 9/11. It would appropriate and necessary that we also reflect on the illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the unspeakable deaths and destruction caused by this Global War on Terror [GWOT] – over 1 million Iraqis; 300,000 Afghanis;80,000 Pakistanis; and countless more in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Niger dead, and more we don’t even know about.
Today, I want to focus on the other aspect of this forever war. We can see very clearly now over the last two decades, that it was not terrorism, but U.S. counterterrorism/insurgency, that has upended fundamental U.S. constitutional rights and international human rights law, and in many ways has created the situation which threatens the fabric of our so-called fragiledemocracy. In the 60’s the anti-war movement called for bringing the war home. Now in some perverse way we have brought the GWOT home.
First let me be clear, if anyone has any doubt, the policies and practices of counterterrorism were and are bipartisan, supported and expanded by presidents and members of both political parties. In fact, in 1996 even before 9/11, Clinton — supported by Congress (91 to 8) — passed the “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” described as an “act to deter terrorism.” It remains today (with higher penalties) one of the main legal structures to prosecute and imprison Muslims, Palestinians opposing Occupation, and others resisting U.S supported oppressive governments. Under this law the Secretary of State is empowered to make a list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) with a limited right to challenge such designation. It also criminalizes any act that is considered to provide “material support” for such a designated group (there are several hundred on such a list) which includes First Amendment activity (charitable giving, providing human rights training or assisting groups making claims of human rights violations) if considered “under the direction of or in conjunction with an FTO,” with penalties of up to 20 years in jail. The designated FTOs consisted of only groups that oppose U.S. occupation or policies, or authoritarian allies of the U.S, ignoring those that were clearly involved in terrorism like the Israeli Defense Force[IDF], the Mujahedin-e-Khalq [MEK] or even Israeli settler groups.
Under this law, the government need not show that such support was for acts of violence or otherwise illegal acts. For one example, the leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest U.S. based Muslim charity supporting humanitarian needs throughout the Middle East, including Palestinians living on Occupation, were sentenced to up to 65 years in prison after two trials in Texas. Hundreds of others, mostly Muslims living in the U.S., have been imprisoned under this statute.
Days after 9/11, Congress passed the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” [AUMF] against those involved in 9/11, without naming a specific enemy or geographical or temporal limitations. This authorization continues in effect today. This has been interpreted by the government to extend not only those involved in 9/11, but what it characterized as “associated forces.” In 2002 the Congress passed another authorization prior to its invasion of Iraq. This overbroad interpretation gives the government a blank check to use military force Libya, Somalia, Niger, Iran, or anywhere else who were clearly not “associated forces,” thus emasculating Congress’ power to declare war and allowing for endless wars. It is believed that since 9/11 U.S. military force has been used in 19 different countries.
After the military authorization, Bush moved swiftly to carry out the military invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly to capture Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who escaped to Pakistan. Hundreds of Afghanis were captured and sent to secret U.S. black sites, or were sent to other countries to be horrifically tortured, under what was denominated as “extraordinary rendition.”
In addition, illegal secret surveillance was conducted, seizing the contents of millions of phone calls, and other communications from abroad, in violation of Constitution and without out authorization of the FISA law created in 1978 which required approval of all foreign intelligence by a special court with secret proceedings.
In order to avoid federal and military law prohibiting torture, to say nothing of the Constitution, Bush had his lackeys in the OLC (John Yoo, now a law professor and Jay Bybee, a judge on the CA 9th Circuit) to define torture as “causing organ failure, death or irreversible psychological damage.” Those captured and tortured (many totally innocent) who were perceived as high value detainees were then sent to Guantanamo prison, an occupied Cuban territory, and detain indefinitely without charges. As part of the WOT hundreds more were captured after the invasion of Iraq, under the lie that Sadaam was involved with 9/11, and had weapons of mass destruction, were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib in Iraq where they were humiliated by soldier guards forced to be nude in front of female soldiers and physically and repeatedly abused and forced feed to stop the hunger protests
Within two months of 9/11, the 300 page U.S Patriot Act (was it already drafted before 9/11?) was passed, legalizing broad unconstitutional powers of surveillance, that up till then had been done secretly in a program not even known to many members of NSA, called Stellarwind. The Act created powers to secretly spy on U.S. citizens and collect billions of metadata phone records (the numbers, dates, and names of the senders and receivers of every phone call made in the U.S. and abroad. Shockingly, Director Michael Hayden, was quoting as saying, “We kill people based on metadata.”
The Act also authorized National Security Letters, whichempower federal agents to obtain private telecommunications and customer records held by banks and other financial institutions, and business records of Americans, without judicial authority, and which gag victims of such searches, prohitibing them from speaking publicly about it. In challenging any judicial oversight to surveillance, William Barr, then general counsel for Verizon, stated that the FISA court was too restrictive and that judges were not competent to make decisions about surveillance.
The Act also permitted physical or electronic searches called “sneak and peek,” which allowed for agents with a warrant to enter a home in the absence of the resident or seize telecommunications and delay in notifying the target of the searches. In addition, under Section 702 of Patriot Act, all data collected from social media platforms (Google, Facebook, Microsoft) (Surveillance Capitalism) were authorized to be automatically turned over to the NSA.
In addition, the government was allowed to invoke the States Secrets Privilege to prevent any civil suits that challenged torture or surveillance. By 2012 the FISA Court was bullied into holding that collection of metadata about phone calls was legal under FISA, but the secret taping of the contents of phone calls was still going on.
At the same time the shockingly narrow definitions to condone torture and secret surveillance were being carried out, there was growing anti-Muslim campaign in the U.S. The Islamophobes were fanning the flames of fear and hatred. The FBI and Security State focused on Muslims living in America. The FBI organized 15,000 informants dedicated to infiltrating the Islamic community centers, Mosques and schools, looking to spy on and entrap Muslims, with phony or exaggerated terrorism charges.
Tens of Muslims were detained without charges under the Material Witness Statute, falsely claiming that if they were not detained, these people were likely to flee. Hundreds were charged and convicted of providing “material support” or other criminal charges, and then offered reduced charges in exchange for information or for acting as informants.
Anti-Sharia laws were proposed in 30 states. Enflamed by fear of Muslim Terrorism, concerted efforts on social media platforms and by right wing media that Islam = terrorismwere beginning to grow roots in the U.S., which as we know had a long history of racism and fear of the other. Nativist anger was on the rise.
But wait — a new president was elected — a constitutional law professor who called the Iraq war a stupid war and talked about hope and change; the “hope” that the counterterrorism and the attack on our civil liberties at home would be ended. But alas that was not to be.
It turned out, Barack Obama wanted a sustainable GWOT, but without fear and Muslim hatred. He tried to moderate the war on terror under the naive fallacy that destruction abroad would not damage U.S. democracy.
The third day in office he initiated drone attacks in Afghanistan that killed nine civilians. And every third day throughout his tenure he approved or had subordinates approve murderous drone attacks. He opted for a “cleaner way”to kill the believed terrorists by air, and over his years in office he was responsiblefor over 1,000 strikes, killing 4,000 including at least 500 civilians. Since it was all done in secrecy, we really will never know the real totals. Drones attacked mosques, funerals and weddings, signature strikes which did not target a specific target but focused on general targets. Murder without due process, even including U.S. citizens. Drone use was the centerpiece of his counterterrorism strategy. The head of the drone strikes was the former head of the CIA counterterrorism center.
In 2012 Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which specifically allowed the apprehension and indefinite detention without trial of anyone, including U.S. citizens, suspected of threatening the security of the homeland. He promised to close Guantanamo but failed to do so (he had the crazy idea to put them in a prison in Illinois, rather than give them immediate Article III trials or release them.). But he backed off of that promise when he received some opposition from Congress, and Guantanamo was never closed.
He sanctioned military trials and secret surveillance. Despite all his efforts to placate the security state, and the anti-Muslim nativists, many attacked him calling as secret Muslim and supporter of the terrorist networks.
He, like Bush, failed to make the GWOT respect the constitution;instead he allowed the constitution to respect the law on terror. He charged six whistleblowers with the 1917 espionage Act, including Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and an FBI agent who released information on CIA torture — invoking this 100 year old law more than all the prior presidents combined.
He refused to hold accountable those who planned and carried out torture, spouting the absurd idea that we should look forward not backward, and essentially providing immunity to all those who organized the torture. He directed his Justice Department to appeal favorable lower court rulings to allow habeas corpus rights to prisoners at Guantanamo and Bagram, and defended a suit against an airline involved in carrying out renditions for torture.
The fear and hate towards Muslims was growing, and now, with the protests of police killings in Ferguson and other places, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movementwere being called terrorists, as wer the amorphous Antifa. Connected to all this fear and hatred was the growing anti-immigrant movement. “Terrorists” were coming in over the southern border, and Obama responded by deporting almost two million immigrants and locking up unaccompanied children. Many in the white population argued that dangerous immigrants were coming here to replace them. And our history of genocide against Native people and racial bigotry and violence was alive and growing. The war against terrorism was brought home after years of brutal, murderous counterterrorism.
Should anyone had been surprised that all this fear of terrorism and racial hatred did not bring us Donald J. Trump? The liberals who supported Obama were now forced to see the security state as the savior of U.S. democracy. The CIA, U.S. Attorneys, and the FBI were the heroes. Ask yourself how many times you saw one of them as a talking head on TV defending the rule of law and the constitution in opposition to Trump. But did we forget all they did in the past to undermine the rule of law and the constitution? The question has been asked: “does the evacuation of Iraq and now Afghanistan bring an end to the GWOT?” I submit to you until we eliminate the U.S. interests in policing the world with drones and other forms of air power, and the U.S. ends its lust to control the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, the GWOT abroad and the war at home will continue, and the rule of law and the constitution will continue to be trampled.
Another Burge Torture Survivor Will Finally Get His Day in Court
On Friday, August 20, 2021, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in Johnny Plummer’s favor granting him a hearing so that he can present newly discovered evidence in support of his allegations that he was tortured at Area 3 Police Headquarters by detectives working under the supervision of the notorious former Commander Jon Burge and that these detectives withheld evidence exonerating him of this murder.
In August of 1991, Johnny, aged 15, was transported to Area 3 Police Headquarters, and questioned about the murder of Michael Engram. Johnny has consistently alleged he was tortured into confessing to this murder by Detectives Michael Kill and Kenneth Boudreau when they hit him with a flashlight; punched him in the face; pulled his hair; handcuffed him to a radiator and ring in the wall; and threatened he would be raped in prison. After he was tortured and interrogated for 39 hours, he agreed to sign a statement because he was scared, tired, and wanted the torture and interrogation to end.
In 1995, the chief piece of evidence used to convict him of this murder was his coerced confession.
In 2016, Johnny filed a successive post-conviction petition. In support of his claims, he attached evidence demonstrating that 72 people have accused Kill and Boudreau of using torture and abuse to extract their confessions: 2o of whom have been exonerated or acquitted of the crimes they confessed to; 8 were granted reparations from the City of Chicago; and scores of others had their allegations of coercion deemed credible by the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC), judicial decisions, and prior findings by the Office of Professional Standards.
The Illinois Appellate Court, citing a “multitude of evidence” and “abundance of exhibits,” noted that the “trial court found that there was no question that Detectives Kill and Boudreau engaged in a pattern and practice of abuse.” The Appellate Court also found that Johnny presented “evidence of a systematic pattern of similar abuse by Detectives Kill and Boudreau . . . The alleged pattern of abuse could be used to impeach Detective Kill’s credibility and bolster defendant’s credibility. The proposed evidence places such a weight on the scales of justice that it significantly undercuts this court’s confidence in the guilty verdict. Thus, we find that this evidence is so conclusive in nature, that if these reports were allowed at defendant’s motion to suppress, it would have likely changed the outcome on retrial”.
The Court also found that Johnny presented sufficient evidence demonstrating that Detectives Kill and Boudreau withheld exculpatory evidence demonstrating that there were alternative suspects who may have committed the murder. If this evidence was presented at his trial, it could have changed the result.
There was no physical evidence linking Johnny to this crime, and his conviction was predicated upon his alleged coerced confession and two tentative eyewitnesses, one of whom did not see the shooting and the other who cannot reliably claim Johnny committed the murder.
This win in the Appellate Court is a crucial step for Johnny in securing a modicum of justice in his case. We are hopeful that this decision will help Johnny and other police torture survivors interrogated at Area 3 Police Headquarters who have had less success securing their dates in court despite newly discovered evidence in support of their allegations of torture and coercion.
To read the full decision you can find it here.
It is the fruit of a collective effort by countless people including, Johnny; his mother Jeanette Plummer, who has been a tireless advocate on his behalf; lawyers and legal workers at the People’s Law Office and Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center who represented Johnny in the trial court and on appeal (Joey Mogul argued the case in the appellate and trial courts and filed the petition in trial court; Megha Ram authored the appellate briefs), attorneys at Edelson P.C. (Daniel J. Schneider) and Mayer Brown authored amicus briefs, as well as several organizers and organizations who have supported Johnny, the reparations campaign for Burge torture justice survivors and the on-going efforts for justice for all police torture survivors.
Organizations who supported Johnny’s appeal include: The Chicago Torture Justice Center, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity (MAMAS), South Siders Organized for Unity and Liberation (“SOUL”), Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), The NAACP – Westside Branch, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Chicago Urban League, Chicago Community Bond Fund, Westside Justice Center, Judicial Accountability Project, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), American Friends Service Committee Chicago, She Votes Illinois.
Today, we are proud to announce a victory in Chicago Freedom School’s lawsuit against the City of Chicago.
Today, the City of Chicago rescinded the cease and desist order it issued to the Chicago Freedom School on May 30, 2020!
On May 30, CFS, located in the South Loop, opened its space to provide support (including take-out pizza and store bought snacks for free) and rides home to Black and Brown young people protesting the racist police murders in downtown Chicago.
CPD officers and members of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) showed up at CFS’s door and aggressively demanded to search the premises asserting that CFS was “housing and feeding protestors,” insinuating that was a crime which it is not.
After searching the premises, BACP members issued CFS an illegal “Cease and Desist” order falsely claiming the CFS was “preparing and serving food” on its premises without a commercial Retail Food Establishment License. CFS staff were threatened with arrest and the CFS fined if they continue to provide youth participants commercially prepared food, thereby shutting down this not for profit organization.
Joey Mogul of People’s Law Office and Sheila Bedi of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic of Pritzker Northwestern School of Law filed a lawsuit in federal court on June 25, 2020 challenging the violations of CFS’s, Executive Director Tony Alvarado-Rivera’s and Wellness Director Jacqulyn Hamilton’s constitutional rights and demanding a preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of this illegal cease and desist order.
Today, the BACP formally rescinded the cease and desist order.
Check out CFS’s statement about this victory.
We are proud to represent CFS and we are inspired by their work in supporting young Black and Brown people in the City and their courage in standing up to the City of Chicago, CPD and BACP to demand respect for their rights and work.
On May 30, 2020, the Chicago Freedom School, located in the South Loop, opened its space to provide support (including take-out pizza and store bought snacks) and rides home to Black and Brown young people protesting the racist police murders in downtown Chicago.
At 11 p.m., several Chicago Police Officers and members of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) showed up at CFS’ door and aggressively demanded to search the premises asserting that CFS was “housing and feeding protestors.”
“Many youth who had just experienced police violence while protesting said violence, came to CFS to use the bathroom, drink water, and get connected to a ride home – since the Mayor had just instituted a curfew, raised the bridges, and shut down the CTA. We chose to open our doors for immediate safety because we are dedicated to young people’s well-being,” says Wellness Director Jacqulyn Hamilton. “The City & Police colluding to search CFS that night, without a warrant, and threaten to arrest staff present, including myself, for daring to serve pizza – was in character for how this City and police treat Black & Brown young people – with disdain.”
After searching the premises, BACP members issued CFS a “Cease and Desist” order falsely claiming the CFS was “preparing and serving food” on its premises without a Retail Food Establishment License. The order directed the CPD to arrest CFS employees if they continue to provide youth participants commercially prepared food and fine CFS $500-1,000 each day it continues to provide food, thereby effectively shutting down this small, not-for-profit organization.
“We appreciate the love & support we have received from our community, in light of our mistreatment at the hands of the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department. We are bringing this lawsuit to ensure that none of our programs, young people, or staff are at continued risk, and to affirm our support for the righteous protests against police violence against Black people and for the defunding of police,” says incoming Executive Director, Tony Alvarado-Rivera.
The lawsuit seeks to stop the City from enforcing this order. The suit also seeks vindication and damages as the search and order are attempts by City and CPD officials to retaliate against the CFS for exercising its 1st Amendment rights to support young people and to support the protests against racist police violence. Read the filed complaint here.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are Joey Mogul of the People’s Law Office and Sheila Bedi of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
“We are outraged that the CPD and BACP illegally raided the CFS’s premises and issued an illegal, unconstitutional, and frankly bogus, cease and desist order to the CFS” said Joey Mogul and Sheila Bedi. “The Chicago Freedom School provided critical support to young Black and Brown people on May 30th. They should be revered for their work, not threatened with arrest and being shut down.”
The Chicago Freedom School is a non-profit organization, inspired by the Mississippi Freedom Schools of the Civil Rights era, which provides a space where young people and adult allies can study the work of past movements, deepen their understanding of current social problems, build new coalitions, and develop strategies for change. Learn more at ChicagoFreedomSchool.org
The Cook County Public Defender on Monday joined a broad coalition of community groups, activists, and attorneys in filing a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for denying people in police custody access to counsel and phones.
The lawsuit further states that the City’s history of unlawful refusals became more widespread following the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent citywide protests over police brutality and racism. Follow the link to view the filed lawsuit.
“Since 1963, the law has required that every person arrested is entitled to communicate with their loved ones and counsel,” said Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli. “For seven decades, Chicago police have not been held accountable for this systemic violation of human rights. If the police just followed the law, we would no longer be the false confession capital of the world and communities would have greater trust for and cooperation with the Chicago Police Department.” PD QUOTE
Under Illinois law, people who are arrested have the right to communicate and consult with an attorney and the right to make phone calls within an hour of arriving at their first place of custody. However, the Chicago Police Department has a long history of depriving arrestees access to a phone to reach out to counsel or loved ones.
On Friday, May 29, and throughout that following weeks, more than 2,600 demonstrators were arrested by CPD and many were denied access to counsel. The lawsuit details how CPD systemically impeded attorneys from finding and talking to their clients.
In filing the suit, the Public Defender joins a coalition that includes Black Lives Matter Chicago, Stop Chicago, #LetUsBreathe Collective, UMedics, and GoodKids MadCity. Each organization has members who were detained and denied their right to make a phone call and contact their attorneys. The National Lawyers Guild Chicago, also a plaintiff in the suit, has been denied access to clients in police stations, including during the recent protests.
”On Sunday May 31st, I was slammed to the ground and beaten with batons by CPD while trying to protect my brother and his fiancée, #LetUsBreathe co-founders Damon Williams and Jennifer Pagán, and our comrade Christopher Brown,” said Kristiana Colon of the #LetUsBreathe Collective. “Horrified by the excessive force and unjust targeting of my family and fellow organizers, I did my best to intervene and was injured in the process. When I arrived at 51st & Wentworth to try and locate them, the supervising officer told me they weren’t there. I asked again if he was telling the truth and he said he had no reason to lie to me. After several hours of fear and confusion, it turned out they were there after all, but were denied access to counsel for several more hours. Our organization supports mutual aid efforts across the South & West sides, and had to redirect our time and resources to a rapid response rally to get our people out of jail. This is one of the many ways superfluous police encounters are a theft of the energy that should be spent on keeping people safe.”
“I sat in the hospital handcuffed to a wheelchair for nearly 8 hours before I saw a lawyer,” said activist and artist Damon Williams, who was arrested following a protest on May 31, 2020. “I hadn’t slept. I thought I was alone. I was afraid I would be locked up with no end in sight. I wasn’t the only person in custody crying out for information and asking to talk to my lawyer. I have nightmares about being in custody and terrified that I’d be locked up without any explanation or contact with the outside world.”
The City and the Chicago Police Department has cynically used the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny people their rights while under arrest. After Gov. Pritzker issued his stay-at-home order on March 20, the Public Defender was forced to curtail in-person attorney-client visits, and informed CPD that all attorney-client conversations would take place by phone until further notice. CPD refused to coordinate mandatory confidential telephone visits for clients in custody unless and until the Public Defender agreed that CPD would not be liable if they overheard any attorney-client conversations. The Public Defender alternatively asked for virtual visits with clients, similar to the system used by the Cook County State’s Attorney to talk to its witnesses. That request was denied.
Between April 16, 2020 and June 5, 2020, the Public Defender’s Office surveyed 1,468 people in bond court. Nearly a quarter (23%) stated that CPD never offered them access to a phone at any point while they were detained at the police station. Those who were allowed phone access were forced to wait an average of 4.2 hours.
“Denying phone access is a key CPD scare tactic to impede access to counsel,” said Alexa Van Brunt of the MacArthur Justice Center, which represents the plaintiffs. “The result is that detainees are cut off entirely, without legal guidance or protection from police coercion.”
The recent practice is just an exacerbation of the decades-long practice to deny arrestees access to attorneys and phone calls. It is a practice that was called out by the current Mayor when she was part of the Police Accountability Task Force that formed following the shooting of Laquan McDonald.
“We had documented for decades how the denial of phone access leads to false arrests, false charges and wrongful convictions, and costs the City money,” explained First Defense Legal Aid Executive Director Eliza Solowiej, who served on the Task Force with the current Mayor, and was part of the team that found that requiring access to phones with in a hour of arrest (as required by state law) would be one of the foundational reforms to ending police misconduct.
Plaintiffs have filed a writ of mandamus in the Circuit Court of Cook County Chancery Division to force the City to comply with Illinois law governing access to counsel and to phones.
Plaintiffs are represented by Brendan Shiller of Shiller Preyar Jarard & Samuels, Craig Futterman of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, Alexa Van Brunt of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Sheila A. Bedi of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Joey L. Mogul of the People’s Law Office, and Daniel Massoglia of First Defense Legal Aid
Today, May 6, is the 5th anniversary of the Reparations legislation. This unprecedented legislation providing reparations to Chicago Police Torture (Burge) survivors passed Chicago’s City Council on May 6, 2015. The legislation provides concrete, redress for the two decades long pattern of racially motivated police torture committed by and under the command of notorious former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 to 1991, including:
·a formal apology for the torture
·the creation of a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools to 8th and 10th graders;
·the creation of the Chicago Torture Justice Center in Englewood, Chicago that provides specialized counseling and social services to the Burge torture survivors, family members and all impacted by police violence;
·the creation of a $5.5 million Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that provides financial compensation to 57 of the Burge torture survivors who are still with us;
·free enrollment in Chicago City Colleges for the Burge torture survivors, immediate family members and their grandchildren recognizing the legacies of harm caused by the torture and decades of incarceration suffered by the Burge torture survivors and families; and
·the creation of a public memorial to the Burge torture survivors.
The legislation was the fruit of decades of litigation, independent journalism and organizing, which included a concerted grassroots campaign led by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Project NIA, We Charge Genocide and Amnesty International, USA, during the midst of #BlackLivesMatter movement of 2014 and 2015. We are grateful to Black People Against Police Torture for their work in sounding the initial demand reparations.
We are proud of our work in representing survivors of police torture at the hands of Burge and other Chicago officers in civil rights litigation and post-conviction proceedings. We continue that work to this day as People’s Law Office continues to fight for the freedom of police torture survivors who remain incarcerated and are now at serious risk due to COVID-19.
We are also grateful to have had the opportunity to work, build relationships and struggle alongside so many police torture survivors, their family members and other organizers.
PEOPLE’S LAW OFFICE REMAINS COMMITTED TO CLIENTS AND COMMUNITIES
Due to the CoronaVirus/Covid 19 pandemic, all of the staff at the People’s Law Office are working from our homes. We are operational and continue our zealous representation of our clients during this difficult time. There may, however, be a delay in our receiving USPS mail and deliveries and urge all to contact us by telephone or electronic mail if possible to assure the most prompt response.
We currently anticipate that this will continue to be the new normal through April 30th consistent with federal and state court closures as well as state and municipal orders.
During this unprecedented time, we wish health and safety to all and look forward to the day when we can again interact with each other in close proximity.
By: Flint Taylor
This article was initially published in InJustice Watch on March 11, 2020.
Just before the City of Chicago, apparently with Mayor Lightfoot’s blessing, took the Stanley Wrice case to trial last month, I wrote that it was still not too late for the city to offer a fair settlement to compensate Wrice for his brutal torture and coerced confession. The mayor stood, I wrote, “at a legal and political crossroads; the question is whether she will stand with the torturers or torture victims. As lawyers like to say, ‘The jury is still out.’”
Ignoring history, the overwhelming evidence of systemic police torture, her own prior admissions and this warning, ship Lightfoot steamed ahead to trial with the officers represented by a team of five lawyers, four of whom were Andrew Hale and his coterie of private lawyers collecting handsome sums of additional “pinstripe patronage” at the taxpayer’s expense.
This crew, captained by Lightfoot’s handpicked Deputy Corporation Counsel Caryn Jacobs, set out to win the case at all costs, both financial and political, by slandering all six of the witnesses who averred that they had been tortured by Jon Burge henchmen John Byrne and Peter Dignan.
Preening around the courtroom they unabashedly attacked these torture survivors as a pack of liars, and took every opportunity to remind the jury that Wrice had confessed to participating in a brutal rape of a white woman — a charge that Wrice once again steadfastly denied during his testimony.
On the other hand, Dignan and Byrne chose not to sit through the trial, save for their appearance on the witness stand to take the Fifth Amendment when asked about their torture of Wrice and numerous other victims. Instead, their surrogate, Fraternal Order of Police Local 7 vice president Martin Preib, a close personal and political ally of Burge, Dignan, and Byrne, sat as their watchdog throughout the trial. Well before trial Preib had written a letter to Lightfoot on union stationary, urging her not to settle the case, claiming that the whole torture scandal was a hoax.
At the conclusion of the eight-day trial, the nine-person jury retired to deliberate late on March 2. Composed of seven women and two men, four of whom were of color, they selected a twenty-three-year old white woman as their foreperson. After approximately five hours of deliberation the following day, the jury announced its verdict against the officers and for Wrice on his coerced confession and conspiracy claims, and for the defense on the fabricated evidence claim. The damages award was most telling — $4 million in compensatory damages, and $600,000 apiece against Byrne and Dignan individually. The punitive damages award — extremely high in a police brutality case — spoke volumes about what the jury thought of Byrne and Dignan’s systemic conduct — a condemnation that was made despite the fact that Burge’s name could not be spoken before the jury.
So what does this verdict mean to the taxpayers? Instead of the two to four million that would have been a reasonable eve of trial settlement, (and one that would have been accepted if offered) the city now owes the four million dollars, plus the fees of Wrice attorney Jennifer Bonjean and her team. The City is held responsible for those compensatory damages and fees, and – though state law forbids it– has often ended up paying the punitive damages assessed against the officers And, of course, the City also owes the additional fees that Hale and company racked up trying the case.
So, instead of the $2-4 million an eve of trial settlement would have cost, the city now stands to owe more than $8 million in addition to the $2 million already paid in pinstripe patronage. And if the City decides to continue to fight this case the attorneys’ fees meter will continue to run.
Before the trial began a second set of taxpayer financed defense lawyers won a motion separating the case against the city, which rests on whether the torture was part of a pattern and practice, to be decided later. That case appears a slam dunk for Wrice and Bonjean because all they have to show is that the torture of Wrice by Byrne and Dignan was part of a policy and practice of torture that was conducted under the command of Burge — a practice that is now an uncontestable reality that City policymakers, most particularly Lightfoot, Rahm Emanuel, interim Superintendent Beck and the Chicago City Council have admitted, and a raft of federal and state courts have unequivocally affirmed. Lawyers (including the author) will be lining up to question these unquestionably material policymaking witnesses.
So Lightfoot is now not only confronted with a financial dilemma – – -whether to stop the unjustifiable bleeding of taxpayer money – – – but also whether she will now at last intervene to stop her lawyers from chasing the unconscionable agenda of the Fraternal Order of Police and own up to what she preached about Chicago police torture when she was a candidate for office.
The jury has spoken. Will Lightfoot?
Puerto Rican National Hero and internationally respected freedom fighter Rafael Cancel Miranda has joined his revolutionary ancestors on March 3d. In an audacious act of militancy, Rafael along with Lolita Lebrón, Andrés Figueroa Cordero and Irvin Flores, attacked the U.S. Congress in March of 1954, spraying bullets down into the House of Representatives, to bring to the world’s attention the efforts of the U.S. government to cover up the colonial subjugation of the Puerto Rican people.
Along with Oscar Collazo, who attacked the Blair House in 1950, the then temporary home of President Truman, the four became among the longest held political prisoners in U.S. history. An international campaign, led by the people of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in the diaspora, obtained their unconditional release from President Carter in 1979. The five had refused to seek parole or to accept any conditions on their release. They insisted that they were not criminals and the U.S. had no right to treat them as such.
The People’s Law Office, with Michael Deutsch taking the lead, had the honor to also play an important role in the campaign for the release of the five Nationalists, challenging their isolation in U.S. prisons, helping to get an earlier medical release for Andrés, and coordinating with lawyers from Puerto Rico to help support the campaign.
Over the last 40 years since his release, Rafael has been a critical voice in support of Puerto Rican independence, writing, speaking and marching to expose U.S. colonial control over Puerto Rico. He has written several books of prose and poetry, and has been an enduring symbol of the spirit and commitment for freedom of the Puerto Rican people. His love for his people was a inspiration to all who fight for liberation. His spirit lives on. Presente!