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.

Flint Taylor

Chicago activists pay tribute to the over 110 black men tortured by Chicago police officers as they call for the city to pass the reparations ordinance. (Sarah-Ji / Flickr)

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 here, here, here, here, 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.

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 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.

The ear­ly years

In 2005, lawyers and activists, at the urg­ing of not­ed Chica­go civ­il rights attor­ney Stan­dish Willis, turned to the Inter-Amer­i­can Com­mis­sion for Human Rights (IACHR) and the Unit­ed Nations Com­mit­tee Against Tor­ture (CAT) in order to raise the issue of Chica­go police tor­ture to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty as a human rights issue. Willis enlist­ed the Nation­al Con­fer­ence of Black Lawyers and U.S. Con­gress­man Dan­ny Davis, and togeth­er with the Mid­west Coali­tion for Human Rights, and lawyers from the People’s Law Office (PLO) pre­sent­ed tes­ti­mo­ny at a hear­ing before the IACHR, rais­ing the right to finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion and full reha­bil­i­ta­tion for Chica­go police tor­ture sur­vivors in a sub­mis­sion to the UN CAT. The next May, when Willis was unable make the trip to Gene­va, Switzer­land, to address the CAT due to Court oblig­a­tions, PLO attor­ney Joey Mogul did so, and again raised these issues dur­ing her appear­ance before the Committee. 

Dur­ing 2006 and 2007, the call for com­pen­sa­tion and full reha­bil­i­ta­tion for Chica­go police tor­ture sur­vivors was fur­ther devel­oped and advanced by attor­ney Willis, Black Peo­ple Against Police Tor­ture (BPAPT) (a grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion) and NCBL, 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. Olympic icon John Car­los lent his voice to the strug­gle against the Olympics, and BPAPT lead­ers, includ­ing Willis, Pat Hill of the African Amer­i­can Police League, and NCBL lawyer Lawrence Ken­non, con­duct­ed a series of town hall meet­ings to dis­cuss and pop­u­lar­ize these and a num­ber of oth­er relat­ed police tor­ture issues.

Dur­ing this time, Willis, who had pre­vi­ous­ly played a promi­nent role in the strug­gle for repa­ra­tions for slav­ery, con­ceived of the com­pelling idea that the broad-based relief sought both local­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly by BPAPT and the anti-tor­ture move­ment be called repa­ra­tions.” BPAPT incor­po­rat­ed this relief into the Illi­nois Repa­ra­tions for Police Tor­ture Vic­tims Act, which reflect­ed BPAPT’s twin con­cerns for the Burge vic­tims still in jail and for heal­ing the long term trau­ma that tor­ture inflict­ed on indi­vid­u­als and their families. 

The Act called for the estab­lish­ment of a Cen­ter for Tor­ture Vic­tims and Fam­i­lies, which would pro­vide psy­cho­log­i­cal and psy­chi­atric treat­ment and voca­tion­al assis­tance, as well as com­mu­ni­ty edu­ca­tion and polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy, and for the appoint­ment of an Illi­nois Inno­cence Inquiry Com­mis­sion to inves­ti­gate and deter­mine cred­i­ble claims of fac­tu­al inno­cence from tor­ture vic­tims. These demands were lat­er reassert­ed to the UN Com­mit­tee on the Elim­i­na­tion of Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion (CERD) in a shad­ow report and at a Chica­go CERD hear­ing. The call for a com­mis­sion was real­ized in 2009, when BPAPT, in com­bi­na­tion with the active polit­i­cal spon­sor­ship of Illi­nois State Sen­a­tor Kwame Raoul, obtained pas­sage of the Illi­nois Tor­ture Inquiry and Relief Com­mis­sion Act, which estab­lished a Com­mis­sion to review claims of tor­ture that arose under Jon Burge’s com­mand.

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.”

Adam Green, an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, also tes­ti­fied. Green empha­sized the adverse impact that the tor­ture scan­dal had imposed on Chicago’s black com­mu­ni­ty, and how a fair sen­tence would help to mit­i­gate the untold dam­age that it had done.

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.

The Tri­bune also pub­lished a cut­ting response that called it a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty for Emanuel to show that there had been a true chang­ing of the guard,” and chas­tised Emanuel for being 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 by Stan Willis, the Mid­west Coali­tion for Human Rights, BPAPT and oth­er repa­ra­tions pio­neers, input from the tor­ture sur­vivors and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and rel­e­vant pre­cepts of inter­na­tion­al law draft­ed the orig­i­nal Repa­ra­tions Ordinance.

In June of 2013, in recog­ni­tion of Tor­ture Aware­ness Month, I raised issue of tor­ture repa­ra­tions in a piece pub­lished in the Huff­in­g­ton Post:

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, attor­ney 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 polit­i­cal 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. On Octo­ber 16, 2013, they intro­duced CTJM’s Ordi­nance into the Council.

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 piv­otal 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 and the Chica­go Sun-Times 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.”

The response was again sharp, point­ing to the upcom­ing elec­tion and empha­siz­ing 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 tor­ture sur­vivor 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 more than 45,000 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 CTJM 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. The lawyers 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 CTJM 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, by Black Peo­ple Against Police Tor­ture and the Mid­west Coali­tion for Human Rights, and, most impor­tant­ly, by the sur­vivors of Chica­go police tor­ture and their families.

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.”

This arti­cle has been updat­ed and expand­ed since its ini­tial publication. 

Flint Tay­lor is a found­ing part­ner of the People’s Law Office in Chica­go. He is one of the lawyers for the fam­i­lies of slain Black Pan­ther lead­ers Fred Hamp­ton and Mark Clark, and togeth­er with his law part­ner Jef­frey Haas was tri­al coun­sel in the marathon 1976 civ­il tri­al. He has also rep­re­sent­ed many sur­vivors of Chica­go police tor­ture, was involved in the strug­gle for repa­ra­tions, and has done bat­tle with the Chica­go Police Depart­ment — and the Fra­ter­nal Order of Police — on numer­ous occa­sions over his 45 year career as a people’s lawyer
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