Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday a landmark reparations package for the scores of victims of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge who oversaw a nearly two-decade regime of torturing suspects into confessions.
The proposal, reached between city officials and groups representing the victims and other stakeholders, will be submitted for approval to the Chicago City Council on Wednesday.
According to the city's statement, it includes "a public recognition of the torture committed by Jon Burge, financial reparations for his victims, and a collection of services to help bring closure for the individuals impacted by his actions, as well as their families." The statement adds that "a $5.5 million fund will be created to provide financial reparations to individuals with a credible claim of Burge-related torture."
Among the victims is Ronald Kitchen, who spent 21 years in prison until after it was proven that his confession was coerced, previously described Burge as "our al-Qaeda, he was our (Osama) bin Laden in our neighborhood."
Abu Ghraib has nothing over Chicago. Forty years ago, Jon Burge returned from Vietnam, joined the Chicago Police Department and allegedly began torturing people. He rose in the ranks to become a commander in Chicago's South Side, called Area 2. Electric shocks to the genitals, mock executions, suffocation with bags over the head, beatings and painful stress positions are among the torture techniques that Burge and police officers under his command are accused of using to extract confessions in Chicago, mostly from African-American men. More than 110 men are known to have been victims of Burge and his associates. Victims often went to prison, some to death row.
"This ordinance... is a modicum of redress."
—Mariame Kaba, Project NIADarrell Cannon, a survivor of torture by detectives under Burge’s command, said of the announcement: "This is historic. For those of us who have been fighting and struggling to set a landmark, this is that landmark. This is the moment. What we do here will not be undone. People across the country will talk about Chicago. It would be the first bill in the U.S. that would provide reparations for law enforcement conduct."
While Emanuel said the move would help "bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close," Mariame Kaba, founding Director of Project NIA, a group that works to end youth incarceration and which was involved in reaching the package, said that the ramifications of Burge's actions continue.
"The harm that was done by Burge and officers under his command to individuals, to their families, and to Black communities in Chicago cannot be undone," Kaba stated. "It cannot be erased, and the lasting impact of this torture and trauma continues to this day. We keep this knowledge in our hearts and minds.
"And at the same time, it is important that the city acknowledge and speak to this harm. This ordinance is another step in the long march toward an end to police violence. It is a modicum of redress," she stated.