Richard M. Daley could never get beyond the Jon Burge police torture era that stands as one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department. Not as state’s attorney. Not as mayor.
Although Burge was suspended in 1991 and fired two years later, Daley could never bring himself to issue the public apology that torture victims demanded because he was too busy defending his own record as prosecutor during the Burge era and staying off the witness stand.
And he could never clear the decks of outstanding claims that have already cost taxpayers nearly $100 million, let alone compensate torture victims who got nothing.
On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did all of that and more in his most significant break yet with the predecessor and former political mentor he refuses to name.
One week after winning Chicago’s first mayoral runoff, Emanuel agreed to create a $5.5 million “reparations” fund to compensate victims allegedly tortured by Burge and his Area 2 cohorts.
The compensation was negotiated with and agreed to by attorneys representing torture victims who couldn’t sue because the statute of limitations had run out.
“I would describe it as night-and-day. Mayor Daley refused to acknowledge the torture. He refused to apologize, even though he had promised to do so. And he never took any measures to provide any redress,” plaintiffs’ attorney Joey Mogul said.
“Mayor Emanuel has apologized and now, he’s putting his weight behind this legislative package to fully acknowledge the depth and breadth of this torture and provide meaningful reparations. . . . Remarkably, it will be the first time a municipality has provided reparations for police violence.”
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, was the chief sponsor behind an ordinance backed by 26 aldermen that called for the city to put $20 million behind Emanuel’s public apology.
Brookins said Emanuel delivered where Daley couldn’t because the former mayor was stuck in a defensive crouch.
“Mayor Daley — he presided over all of this. . . . It would have been hard for him to come out and issue a public apology. The state’s attorney works hand-in-hand with law enforcement and relies on law enforcement to do their jobs,” Brookins said.
“Rahm Emanuel [is] coming from a different perspective. One, he is not a lawyer. Two, he’s not been the state’s attorney. . . . [He] understands how this can undermine his administration, undermine police efforts in doing legitimate community policing, to be able to police the communities effectively, solve and prevent crimes within the community,” he said.
Brookins said Emanuel could have scored political points with black voters who decided the April 7 runoff by announcing the settlement before the election.
To his credit, the mayor waited until after he had easily secured a second term.
“People were pressing him to do it [before, but] it would have appeared hokey and a desperate attempt to win an election. . . . I commend him for doing the right thing now and for not politicizing this,” Brookins said.
The deal announced Tuesday includes money — and a whole lot more — to close the book on a reign of terror that has undermined trust between citizens and police in the African-American community.
The $5.5 million fund will be distributed to individuals with “credible claims” of Burge-related torture.
The city has pegged the number of potential recipients at 55. Plaintiffs attorneys have said it could be as high as 65. Individual awards will be capped at $100,000. Disputes will be resolved by an independent arbitrator, most probably a former federal judge.
In addition, alleged Burge torture victims, their immediate family members and grandchildren will receive job training, free City Colleges tuition, psychological, family and substance-abuse counseling. To avoid overburdening City Colleges, there will be a maximum of 50 scholarships in any given year.
The City Council also will issue a formal apology to Burge torture victims while the city creates a “permanent memorial” to them to educate future generations of Chicagoans. The ongoing education includes incorporating “curricula about the Burge case and its legacy” into eighth- and 10th-grade history classes at all Chicago Public Schools.
At a reparations hearing Tuesday that turned into a celebration, Darrell Cannon — who spent 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit — was reduced to tears as he described being tortured into confessing by Burge cohorts who allegedly put an electric cattle prod on his genitals and placed a shotgun in his mouth.
Likening Burge and his cohorts to the Ku Klux Klan, Cannon said, “I was tortured by the New Wave Klan. The New Wave Klan wore badges, instead of sheets.”
He added, “I cry — not because I hurt. I cry because I’m mad. I’m still mad today because of what happened to me and I’ll stay mad. Can’t no one tell me to forgive, forget or anything else because you do not expect for people who have a badge to treat you in that manner.”
But Cannon’s testimony did not end in tears. It ended in laughter.
“I’ll tell you what I intend to do whenever you give me a little piece of money. I’m gonna buy me a motorcycle and I’m gonna ride around City Hall one time. I’m gonna do a lap and say, `Hey. Thank you for finally stepping up and doing the right thing.’ For too long now, this has been an ugly situation in our history,” Cannon said.
In 2006, Daley said he was willing to accept his share of responsibility and “apologize to anyone” for what he called “this shameful episode in our history.”
But two days after a special prosecutor’s report made then-Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek the primary fall guy for Burge’s pattern of abuse, Daley pointed the finger of blame in the same direction.
Daley categorically denied that he deliberately looked the other way to avoid jeopardizing either his political ambitions or the prosecution of an accused cop killer.
“Do you think I would sit by, let anyone say that police brutality takes place, I know about it, that I had knowledge about it, and I would allow it? Then you don’t know my public career. You don’t know what I stand for,” Daley said then.
“I’m an attorney. I’m proud of my public service as state senator, state’s attorney and mayor of the city of Chicago. I would not allow anything like this. One incident is one too many.”
Daley would remain on the defensive about Burge until the day he retired from politics in 2011. That paved the way for Emanuel, who had the supreme freedom of a mayor with nothing to defend, to finally write a new chapter.
“My goal is to both close this book, the Burge book on the city’s history, close it and bring closure for the victims. And make sure that we take this as a city and learn from it about what we have to do going forward because the police department is about public safety, community policing and building trust,” Emanuel told reporters Tuesday.
“I am proud that we have finally, after all these years, brought the closure that we needed as a city — to own up and be accountable for what happened here. But then more importantly to help the victims have their own sense of closure.”