CHICAGO — In front of a packed chamber May 6, the City Council here unanimously approved a reparations ordinance allocating $5.5 million for many of those tortured and framed up by police commander Jon Burge and his notorious “Midnight Crew” from 1972 to 1991.
As the names of the torture victims and their families present in the City Hall chambers were read, the crowd of 100 jammed into a glass-walled balcony cheered. Leaving the balcony after the ordinance passed, they chanted, “Reparations won!”
Burge and his “crew” extracted false confessions to win convictions of at least 120 people, mostly Black men, using electric shocks, mock executions, suffocation and beatings.
The determined refusal over years of those tortured and framed up to remain silent, their protests and legal challenges, along with mounting outrage, especially in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods, led to the exposure of the cops’ practices and prevented the city government from sweeping the cases under the rug.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed April 14 to support the ordinance, saying his goal was to “close this book — the Burge book — on the city’s history, close it and bring closure for the victims.”
“It’s a great start for the city of Chicago to acknowledge the truth about what happened,” Mark Clements told the news media in response. Clements spent 28 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, after being tortured by Burge’s cops when he was 16. “More needs to be done about the many survivors of torture who are still in prison.”
According to the Chicago Sun Times, city officials say 55 torture victims are potential recipients of the reparations.
Clements was asked by the press if he would accept money from the reparations fund if he were found eligible. “No, I won’t accept it,” he said. “It’s too low. I spent 28 years being legally lynched.”
In 1993 the Chicago police department finally fired Burge. In 2006 a special Cook County prosecutor’s investigation concluded Burge and his gang had carried out torture, but that the statute of limitations had run out for prosecution of their crimes.
Burge was later convicted of perjury for lying about one case of torture and spent about four years in federal custody, partly under home confinement.
The ordinance, originally introduced in 2013 at the urging of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, apologizes to the torture victims and sets up the reparations fund, as well as free enrollment in city colleges, and priority access to job training, housing, counseling and other social services. It calls for Chicago public schools to teach a history lesson on the Burge torture cases. It also calls for “local law enforcement officials to provide evidentiary hearings to the torture survivors who remain behind bars,” to have a chance to show their confessions were coerced.
Torture survivors, friends, family and supporters celebrated their victory at a luncheon, and later that evening at a party in Hyde Park. They said they had no intention of closing up shop.
“Today is a good start. But when we get out of prison we have nothing,” Stanley Wrice told the Militant. Wrice was convicted of rape and sentenced to 100 years in prison in 1983 after being tortured by the cop thugs. He was released after 31 years and is now on staff for the Chicago Innocence Project. “There are still around 100 in prison from Burge’s torture and forced confessions.”
“My son Michael Johnson was arrested when he was 17 years old and tortured,” said Mary L. Johnson. “He has been in prison now 30 years. I was the first one to write up a complaint against the torture and forced confessions and speak out on the issue.
“The six indictments of cops in Baltimore are a victory too,” she added, “and I am glad people went into the streets.”
“We have just begun,” said Carolyn Johnson, whose son Marcus Wiggins was tortured in 1991 when he was 13 years old. “Now we have to get my baby and all the others out of jail.”
Dan Fein contributed to this article.
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