By Frederick H. Lowe
Chicago has become the first city in the nation to approve $5.5 million in reparations for black men who were tortured into confessing to crimes they did not commit by disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his so-called “midnight crew.”
Chicago City Council on Tuesday approved a sweeping reparations package that also includes an official apology from the city of Chicago and a permanent memorial recognizing the victims of police torture.
In addition, curriculum about Burge’s police torture will be taught in the history classes of eighth and tenth grade students who attend the Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago also will provide other services to Burge victims and their families, including free tuition to attend Chicago City Colleges, psychological counseling, and job training. G. Flint Taylor of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and a partner in the People’s Law Office in Chicago, estimated that 50 to 65 men who can make credible claims of being tortured will receive a maximum of $100,000. The men should receive the money in six to eight months, Taylor said.
A spokesman for the Stephen Patton, Chicago Corporation Counsel, said the money is not tax free. Patton said many of the victims of police torture are senior citizens, having spent decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
The men have lost out on pensions they would have earned and Social Security. Meanwhile Burge, who served 4 ½ years in prison for lying about torture but not for torturing black men due to the statute of limitations, collects a $4,000 a month pension.
Burge worked on Chicago’s West and South Sides and some his torture victims are still in prison, others have disappeared and still others have died. None of the victims are required to participate in the settlement. If they do, they cannot seek additional compensation from the city.
Burge, who was double promoted from lieutenant to deputy commander, skipping the rank of captain, by Fred Rice, Chicago first African-American police superintendent, tortured 110 to 120 men between 1972 and 1991, using electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings.
Rice was followed by two other African-American police superintendents, LeRoy Martin and Terry Hillard, who both knew about Burge’s brutal tactics but did nothing to get rid of him, according to the Chicago Reader, a weekly newspaper, which broke the story about police torture. The police department finally fired Burge in 1993.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “Jon Burge’s actions are a disgrace — to Chicago, to the hard-working men and women of the police department, and most importantly to those he was sworn to protect. Today we stand together as a city and right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago history to a close.”
The ordinance that Chicago City Council passed culminates decades of work by Taylor and Joey Mogul of the Chicago Torture Memorials. Mogul also is a partner in People’s Law Office.
Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins introduced the ordinance in city council.