Chicago has taken a major step toward reparations for survivors of police torture and abuse. Under the orders of Jon Burge, who served as Police Commander from 1972 to 1991, Chicago police infamously subjected more than 100 black men and youth to beatings, burnings and electric shocks. Dozens of victims were coerced into providing false confessions that led to decades in prisons.
This morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his support for a $5.5 million reparations package for the Burge survivors and their families.
“Today, we stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close,” Emanuel said, according to Associated Press.
Testifying at a hearing on reparations today before the City Council finance committee, Joey Mogul, co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, told the council to stand on the right side of history. “Nothing can erase the human rights violations,” Mogul testified, “[but] the reparations ordination will be an important step towards healing.”
The finance committee is expected to approve the package in a vote on Wednesday. The ordinance then goes to a full City Council for a vote on May 6.
The package is based on the Reparations Ordinance introduced by Alderman Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard Brookins (21st Ward) in October of 2013, although the $5.5 million in reparations falls short of the $20 million originally proposed. As part of the package, the city has agreed to provide a formal apology and create a permanent public memorial that acknowledges the torture committed. Education on police torture would be incorporated into the history curriculum for 8th-and 10th-grade public-school students beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
Under the terms of the package, Burge torture survivors and their family members are eligible for financial compensation and specialized counseling. They can also receive free tuition or job training at Chicago’s City Colleges. They have priority access to the City’s re-entry support services for people leaving prison, which include counseling, food, housing and transportation assistance, senior care and health care. They are also eligible for job placement for survivors in programs designed for formerly incarcerated people.
The People’s Law Office, which represented many of the survivors in suits against the city, issued a statement cheering the news. “The reparations package, rooted in a restorative justice framework, acknowledges the torture of Black people under former police commander Jon Burge,” said the statement, “and begins to make amends by providing financial compensation and services to the torture survivors and their families.”
The agreement comes decades after lawyers, activists, survivors and their supporters began fighting for justice. With the support of many local organizations and collectives, Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, Project NIA, Amnesty International Chicago, and We Charge Genocide (full disclosure: the author is an organizer with this group) led a six-month campaign that included many creative efforts to educate the public: staying outside of Mayor Emanuel’s home, “exhibition-in” at City Hall, citywide teach-ins, phone banks, Twitter conversations, and screenings of End of the Nightstick, the documentary that follows Jon Burge’s case and the city’s cover-ups.
“The City of Chicago’s recognition that people who were tortured by law enforcement officers deserve compensation and redress — regardless of any crime that they were accused of or may have committed — is an important recognition that torture is never excusable and the ends do not justify the means,” Chicago Torture Justice Memorials wrote in a statement to supporters, “Every individual’s dignity matters.” This victory may serve to boost fights for justice by police violence survivors in other cities, like North Charleston, Oakland and New York.
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Keisa Reynolds, who is on the In These Times board of directors, is also a freelance writer.