Recognizing the horrific legacy of the Chicago Police Department and the widespread use of torture under former police commander Jon Burge, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday passed a landmark reparations package for the victims of that violence.
The first of its kind to be given in the United States—at a time when local forces have come under fire for discriminatory and often violent policing practices—the compensation will be given to living survivors who have valid claims of being tortured in police custody during Burge’s tenure between 1972 and 1991.
"It is the first time that a municipality in the United States has ever offered reparations to those violated by law enforcement officials," Joey Mogul, co-founder of advocacy group Chicago Torture Justice Memorials who also helped draft the original reparations ordinance, said in a press statement. "This holistic model should serve as a blueprint for how cities around the country, from Ferguson to Baltimore, can respond to systemic racist police brutality."
During the city council hearing, Alderman Joe Moreno read out the names of the survivors who were present for the vote; the roll call was met with applause and later Moreno called the victims "courageous leaders for justice."
In addition to a $5.5 million compensation fund, the package also provides "psychological compensation," including a public memorial and access to services, such as counseling, job training, health and senior care, and free tuition in city colleges for both survivors and their immediate families.
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According to estimates, eligible claimants will each receive roughly $100,000—which Mogul describes as being a "meaningful measure of compensation."
The more than 100 victims, nearly of all whom were Black males, were subject to "horrific abuse including electric shocks to the genitals and other body parts, suffocation, mock executions and beatings—all of which often accompanied by racial slurs, hurled by all white detectives," says Amnesty International.
However, due to the statutes of limitations on torture, Burge and the detectives under his command were never prosecuted for their crimes. In 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury in civil proceedings for lying about the abuse and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, which he completed earlier this year. Burge continues to receive a police pension.
"Chicago has taken a historic step to show the country, and the world, that there should be no expiration date on reparations for crimes as heinous as torture," said Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Steven Hawkins.
"The United States is a country desperately in need of a more accountable police force," Hawkins added. "Passing this ordinance will not only give long-overdue reparations to survivors, it will help set a precedent of U.S. authorities taking concrete measures to hold torturers accountable."
And Page May, an organizer and activist with the Chicago-based group We Charge Genocide, agreed that the resolution in Chicago must be placed in the "broader context of ongoing and endemic police violence."
May continued: "We must expand counseling and treatment services so they're available for all survivors of police violence. And more broadly, we must fight for an end not only to these horrific acts of torture, and police shootings of Black youth, but also against the daily police harassment and profiling of young people of color in Chicago and across the country."