Survivors of Chicago police torture and their allies are taking to the streets Tuesday to demand justice and reparations from the city whose responsibility it was to oversee the perpetrators.
Former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who presided over the torture by white officers of more than 100 African-American men from 1972 to 1991, was incarcerated for only three and a half years on charges of lying about the atrocities.
While Burge walked out of the Butner Correctional Institution in October and continues to collect a public pension, survivors of electric shocks to genitals, suffocation, mock executions, and more have received little to no compensation as they contend with ongoing repercussions, including prison sentences based on confessions obtained through torture, as well as trauma that spreads to their families and communities.
Now, the survivors are demanding redress from a city whose officials have admitted government culpability in the torture and that had forked over $20 million to defend Burge and others who faced litigation from torture survivors.
"The fight for justice in the torture cases will not be over until all Burge torture victims receive compensation for their suffering, the men in jail get fair hearings and Burge’s pension is taken from him," declared torture survivor Ronnie Kitchen.
On Tuesday, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), We Charge Genocide, Project NIA and Amnesty International are staging a five-mile march to honor "survivors of Chicago Police Department (CPD) torture and communities of color enduring ongoing police abuse, violence and murder in Chicago." Starting at the headquarters of the CPD, the march will head to City Hall where they will deliver a petition with over 45,000 signatures demanding formal passage of a reparations ordinance by city officials.
— kathychaney (@kathychaney) December 16, 2014
Introduced last year, the ordinance's measures include a requirement for the city to provide reparations and redress to the 94 Burge torture survivors who are unable to sue, due to a statute of limitations, as well as issue a formal apology to all people and communities impacted.
The ordinance also includes provisions aimed at forcing the city's history of police torture into the public record, which would require the city's public school system to include this history in its teaching curriculum, as well as establishing public memorials to the torture survivors.
The ordinance, critically, demands new hearings "to the torture survivors who remain behind bars who had their coerced confessions used against them in their criminal proceedings resulting in their wrongful convictions, and moreover, supports the torture survivors’ rights to have a full and fair opportunity to present evidence that demonstrates they were physically coerced into giving a confession."
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According to G. Flint Taylor, a lawyer with the People's Law Office, which represents survivors, "As many as 20 Burge torture victims remain behind bars decades after their convictions, and the movement has focused on demanding new hearings for them at which they would be permitted to present the evidence of systematic torture that has come to light since their convictions."
The proposed legislation has already received the backing of 26 alderpeople, as well as the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which notes that "the vast majority of those tortured—most of them African Americans—have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered." However, the city has taken little action to make it a reality, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel refuses to take a position on the measure.
Organizers say that now is a critical time to pressure Emanuel to back the measure, whether from the streets of Chicago or via social media.
— We Charge Genocide (@ChiCopWatch) December 16, 2014
The mobilization comes amid a nationwide groundswell of outrage and action in response to police violence and killings targeting people of color, particularly black communities, including in Chicago. Over the summer, two African American youths were shot and killed by Chicago police. A youth delegation from the organization We Charge Genocide traveled to the United Nations Committee Against Torture last month to urge the global body to intervene against the "torture and mistreatment of youth of color in Chicago" by police.
Echoing a slogan currently resounding nation-wide, signs declaring "Black Lives Matter" could be seen throughout Tuesday's protest.
While some survivors of torture under Burge remain anonymous, many are speaking out about what they have endured, including David Bates, who declared: "After the third [torture] session I basically, remember being scared to death and I remember not ever feeling that way before, and I never want to feel that way again. And I wanted to find a way to protect myself from it happening again… I also remember being in the station for a while; I don't know how long. I remember being hungry. I remember being an 18-year-old wanting his momma. I remember not wanting to deal with those detectives who tortured me for those sessions."
Martha Biondi, a member of Chicago Torture Justice Memorial and one of the organizers of Tuesday's action, said, "We give thanks to all who have stood up against the travesty of Chicago Police torture. We are making our grief, anger and determination seen and felt by coming together to demonstrate that we will not ignore the ongoing reality of police violence."
Updates and reports on the protest are being posted to Twitter: