It is unfortunate that the Jon Burge police torture scandal is now being treated like an ugly moment in Chicago’s past.
It is a lot deeper than that.
For more than two decades, Burge and his crew of 26 Chicago police officers got away with abusing and demeaning crime suspects, including assaulting their genitals with cattle prods.
The abuse resulted in hundreds of men, mostly African-American, confessing to crimes that they did not commit.
These men were railroaded through the criminal justice system, and many of them spent decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
The Burge police torture scandal exposed the city’s dirty little secret.
We may glitter, but we are a city so entrenched in the muck of racism, it was able to corrupt the police department, silence its elected officials and numb most of its citizenry.
That’s not a moment or even an “ugly and horrible” event as Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said in a video introducing the curriculum to CPS students.
That is a culture.
While “Reparations Won: A Case Study in Police Torture, Racism, And the Movement for Justice in Chicago,” attempts to dissect the Burge police torture as a history lesson, it fails to address the underlying cause of the police brutality that still exists today.
For instance, despite the numerous cases of documented police torture, the Fraternal Order of Police still can’t bring itself to hold Burge accountable.
“Until the full review of the wrongful conviction movement is completed, the FOP does not believe the Burge mythology should be codified into public school curriculum,” the FOP leadership said in a written statement.
Black and brown youths living in neighborhoods where crime is a daily occurrence already know they are likely to be ill-treated if they are stopped by a police officer.
If anything, the torture curriculum, which targets eighth-graders and high school students, should be a required course for all Chicago police officers and recruits.
Because while the City Council was crafting the reparations ordinance in 2013 to right the wrongs Burge committed, other abuses were occurring.
For instance, on Monday, Chicago Police Officer Marco Proano was found guilty of violating the civil rights of two teens wounded in 2013 when the officer fired 16 shots at a stolen car full of teenagers.
According to prosecutors, the car was going in reverse and one teen was hanging out of a window when the police officer used deadly force.
Proano’s defense attorney has said his client made a “split second” decision in what he believed to be a neighborhood full of guns, drugs and crime. Proano could face up to 20 years in prison.
In another case that reeks of racial animus, former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer, is awaiting trial for fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, 16 times in 2014.
Van Dyke claimed McDonald was lunging at police officers with a knife. But a police dashcam video contradicted the officer. Three other police officers were indicted for writing false incident reports related to the shooting.
The McDonald shooting led to mass protests, demands for police reform, and pushed former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez out of office.
But Burge and the detectives under his command were able to escape prosecution because of public apathy.
By the time the victims’ voices were heard, the statute of limitations had run out.
Mark Clements, a torture survivor, has mixed feelings about the curriculum.
Clements was only 16 when he was tortured into a false confession. He was 44 when he walked out of prison.
“I think it is a great idea if [the torture curriculum] is taught by the torture survivors. The history of Chicago police torture stretches from 1971 until today,” Clements said.
“It cannot be realistically taught by individuals that are making a profit off of what took place with torture victims. I am still dealing with the nightmare,” he said.
He agreed that the CPS curriculum should be used to teach police recruits.
“There should be directives that are handed down to all police officers to ensure that they are not victimized by some police officers that want to profit and move up the ranks in the Chicago Police Department,” he said.
However well intended, we can’t look at this torture curriculum as a history lesson because that history is still being lived.