Build the memorial to victims of Burge-era police torture
Cities and nations around the world have installed monuments that acknowledge horrific abuses of the past and call on newer generations to stand up against them in the future. It’s time for Chicago to get this done.
After crimes occur against humanity, erecting memorials is an important way for people to educate themselves about what happened and resolve it won’t happen again.
It’s mystifying that, after years of discussion, Chicago still has not put up a monument to the victims of police torture at the hands of former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his so-called Midnight Crew, who tortured men, mostly African American, on the South Side from the 1970s to 1991. Burge and the Midnight Crew’s techniques included beatings, pretending to fire a gun into the mouth of a victim and using a cattle prod on victims’ genitals, ears, nose and fingers.
In intervening years, we have had some due process — but not without legal struggles and not without delays. People have been exonerated of crimes they were tortured into confessing to, and settlements have been awarded in civil suits.
But there remains a missing piece: a physical, public acknowledgment of the crimes against humanity that took place. In the healing process, public symbolism matters. Around the world, cities and nations have installed monuments that acknowledge horrific abuses of the past and call on newer generations to stand up against them in the future. It’s time for Chicago to do the same.
Since it was created in 2009, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission has investigated numerous cases to identify men who have been languishing in prison because of statements extracted by police torture. Dozens of those cases have been resolved, and men have been freed after years behind bars. TIRC is still investigating a few Burge cases, though almost all have come to a resolution after years of work.
The idea for a monument honoring police torture victims was approved by the city in 2015. A design has been selected by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials jury members. But to this day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has not made a solid commitment to adequately fund construction of the memorial.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), one of the original backers of the memorial, said he is disappointed the project is still in limbo. What it needs, he told us, is the will on the part of the Lightfoot administration to get it done.
On Oct. 6, Alderpersons Jeanette Taylor (20th), Howard Brookins (21st) and Andre Vasquez (40th) filed an amendment to the city budget asking for $2.25 million to fund the memorial. Eighteen other alderpersons joined them, including Sawyer.
The Lightfoot administration and the City Council should make this happen.
Over the years, the city has paid private law firms some $37.5 million to defend Burge, his detectives and the city in civil rights cases brought by survivors. It seems Chicago could find $2.25 million for the memorial.
We can only guess how much it would mean to the victims of police torture and their loved ones to visit a completed memorial for the first time. But the victims are aging. If the memorial remains on the back burner for too long, they never will get their chance.
Since 2015, two recipients of Burge reparations have died. So have several family members. Aging torture survivors deserve to live to see the memorial intended to acknowledge the horrors they went through and help create a vision of a city where such evil does not take place.
The torture memorial, envisioned as being built on the South Side, also would remind all of the city of the importance of standing up against police torture and abuses. The Torture Commission may be close to resolving the Burge-era cases, but among the remaining 454 cases of alleged torture still under examination, most involve police officers not connected to Burge.
In 2013, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the Burge transgressions and the “dark chapter on the history of the city of Chicago.”
It’s time to build the memorial and help bring that chapter to an end.
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