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Chicago is Going to Pay Reparations to People the Police Tortured Decades Ago

Chicago approved a $5.5 million package for victims who experienced torture under former police commander Jon Purge and his officers between 1972 and 1991.
May 7, 2015, 8:06pm
Photo by M. Spencer Green/ AP

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Chicago approved an unprecedented deal on Wednesday to compensate victims that were tortured while in police custody between the 1970s and 1980s under a former police commander.

Along with a formal apology, the Chicago City Council unanimously agreed to award a total of $5.5 million to living survivors with abuse claims, up to $100,000 per person. Survivors and their family members may also receive counseling and free college tuition in city schools. More than 100 people experienced torture, many were African-Americans from the poverty-stricken South Side.

Under former Chicago police commander Jon Burge's regime, suspects in his custody experienced electric shocks, burns, and mock executions, along with other violent treatments. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the decision would "bring this dark chapter of Chicago's history to a close," highlighting that Burge's actions are a disgrace.

"To the victims, to the families, to the entire city: This is another step, but an essential step in righting a wrong—removing a stain on the reputation of this great city," Emanuel said.

Related: Chicago Is Finally Ready to Give Reparations to Police Torture Survivors

Between 1972 and 1991, in an attempt to draw out confessions, Burge ran a group of detectives known as the "Midnight Crew," which tortured as many as 120 African-American men. Suspects reported that one of Burge's torture tactics involved a "black box" that was used during questioning. The box had a crank and two wires on each side, which was used to shock the suspects.

In 1982, convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson claimed he was tortured while in the custody of Burge and his officers. Wilson said that he was repeatedly beaten by several officers and that they put a plastic bag over his head. In addition he was shocked by electrical devices and burned on the radiator. According to the report, Burge took out a device and attached clamps to Wilson's ear and cranked, which "caused Wilson to grind his teeth, scream, and rub the clamps off," the report states. Then Burge took out another device that resembled a curling iron. Burge rubbed the device along Wilson's legs, and Wilson reported that the shocks from this device were stronger than the previous one. Then Burge proceeded to put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it.

Five years later, Wilson was being retried and reconvicted of the murders, and Wilson filed a civil lawsuit against Burge for torture. After a decade, Wilson received a $1.1 million settlement.

Burge was fired in 1993. The statute of limitations for Burge ran out on his alleged crimes but in 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury in civil proceedings in relation to citizen torture claims. He served four and half years in prison. Burge continues to receive a police pension.

Chicago and Cook County have already paid about $100 million in settlements and verdicts to victims that experienced violence under Burge. The reparations package is said to be the first of its kind in the US to be given to victims of racially motivated police torture. Many of the survivors are in their 60s. In addition to the survivors' compensation, the reparations offer a sense of hope that could potentially encourage others who endured police torture.

Flint Taylor, civil rights attorney in Chicago, chased allegations of Burge's torture for years in an attempt to obtain justice for the victims. He explained that the reparations could help address past and current incidents of police brutality.

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"Hopefully it'll be a beacon for other cities here and across the world for dealing with racist police brutality so prevalent in the past in this country and, we're unfortunately seeing, continues to this day," Taylor told the Guardian.

The package will also create a memorial remembering the victims, along with giving Chicago's 8th to 10th grade students in public schools the chance to learn about Chicago's "dark chapter."

Related: As Part of a Reparations Deal, Chicago Teens Will Learn About Police Brutality in School

Steven Hawkins, Amnesty International USA's executive director, said in a press release that the decision marks a "historic step" in addressing police-related crimes.

"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," Hawkins said. "The United States is a country desperately in need of a more accountable police force. 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."