Today, the Chicago City Council passed landmark legislation providing reparations for torture committed by former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command. Forty-three years after Jon Burge tortured the first known detainee, a resolution providing compensation, restitution and rehabilitation to survivors passed with overwhelming support.
The reparations package marks the first time that survivors of racially motivated police torture have been given the reparations they are entitled to under international law. It also illuminates a path forward for survivors of police abuse who cannot seek redress in a court of law. Statutes of limitations on torture have prevented Burge and the detectives under his command from being prosecuted for torturing at least 100 people, nearly all African American men, between 1972 and 1991. After being detained, suspects were subjected 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.
“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 W. Hawkins.
“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. We are proud to stand with the survivors of torture and coalition partners in the fight to get the city to atone for the past and we hope today’s vote will help to ensure that such shocking violations of human rights are not repeated in Chicago – or anywhere else in the United States.”
Today’s passing vote on a comprehensive reparations package – the first of its kind in the U.S. – follows years of work by survivors and stakeholders, including Amnesty International USA, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide. It is due in large part to the perseverance of torture survivors themselves, who still deal with trauma and post traumatic stress disorder from their ordeals.
The ordinance will provide a formal apology from the city; specialized counseling services to survivors and their families at a dedicated center on the South Side; free enrollment or job training in City Colleges; a requirement that the Burge torture cases and police brutality be taught as part of Chicago public schools history curriculum; and a permanent public memorial to torture survivors. The ordinance will also create a $5.5 million dollar fund, meant to ensure that living survivors of Burge torture will receive some measure of the financial compensation they deserve.
"Over the course of the past 6 months, a coalition of individuals and groups organized tirelessly to achieve this goal. Today's historic achievement, passage of the reparations ordinance, is owed to the decades of organizing to bring some justice to the survivors of Burge and his fellow officers' unconscionable torture. We have successfully organized to preserve the public memory of the atrocities experienced by over 110 black people at the hands of Chicago police torture because we refuse to let anyone in this city ever forget what happened here." Mariame Kaba, founder and executive director of Project NIA.