Historic win for police torture survivors in Chicago

Memorial outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Office [photo by Caroline Siede]

Earlier this year I shared the story of a group of police torture survivors and their supporters who have been fighting for reparations from the City of Chicago.

Over 100 black men and women were tortured by police interrogators during the reign of police commander Jon Burge in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Some spent decades in prison based on these coerced confessions.

And now after years of fighting for justice, there is good news to report: The City of Chicago has settled on a reparations package for survivors. That means Chicago will become the first city in the country to provide reparations for law enforcement conduct.


The reparations packages was based on an ordinance created by The Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project. According to their website:

The package.. provides concrete redress to the torture survivors and their family members, which includes: a formal apology for the torture; specialized counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members on the South side; free enrollment and job training in City Colleges for survivors and family members; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools; a permanent public memorial to the survivors; and it sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that will allow the Burge torture survivors with us today to receive financial compensation for the torture they endured.

The reparations package, rooted in a restorative justice framework, acknowledges the torture of Black people under former police commander Jon Burge, and begins to make amends by providing financial compensation and services to the torture survivors and their families. Beyond the financial compensation, the legislation is an important acknowledgment by the city of its responsibility to make amends for the torture, and the decades of denials and cover-ups. It is a significant step towards justice and healing, although nothing can erase the unconscionable human rights violations committed by Burge and his fellow officers.

Although it provides less than the $20 million the ordinance originally requested, it's still a historic win for activist groups like CTJM, Project NIA, Amnesty International, We Charge Genocide, Black Youth Project 100, Chicago Light Brigade, and the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression.

ThinkProgress shared the news as well as some thoughts from torture survivor Darrell Cannon:

Cannon said the settlement, which provides up to $100,000 for each victim, isn't enough for him to feel like justice has been served, but it's a step in the right direction.

"Until I can get Burge's pension taken away from him, justice can never be fully done," Cannon said, referring to the $4,000-a-month pension Burge continues to collect. "But what they're doing today is in fact a very good start… For too long now, this nasty, ugly, vicious secret has been swept under the rug but now it's time to come to grips with the whole thing and to do something that would give us a measure of justice. Everything in the reparations does just that."

Activists hope this Chicago ordinance will inspire other cities to follow suit and push for meaningful reform throughout the country.

Top photo: Caroline Siede