Burge victims renew their pitch for $20 million in reparations

SHARE Burge victims renew their pitch for $20 million in reparations

On the day Jon Burge walked out of a North Carolina federal prison into a halfway house, his city pension intact, Anthony Holmes still felt like a prisoner of the torture inflicted by the notorious former Area 2 police commander.

Holmes still has nightmares about the black box used to shock him and the plastic bag Burge put over his head to cut off his air supply to the point that he passed out and thought he was dead.

He still struggles to earn a living and pay the bills that piled up during the 30 years he spent in prison — while family members died — for a murder he claims he did not commit.

On Thursday, Holmes made yet another emotional plea for the city to do something — anything — to help him heal.

Co-signed by 26 aldermen and embraced by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, the ordinance that has languished for more than a year mandates that the city establish a $20 million fund to compensate 94 torture victims who couldn’t sue, either because of a city “cover-up” or because, as in Holmes’ case, the statute of limitations has run out.

The ordinance would serve as a formal apology to Burge “survivors.” But it would go far beyond the words uttered by Emanuel last year after, yet another round of Burge settlements.

It would create a commission to administer financial compensation to torture victims; establish a public memorial to those victims; open a South Side center to provide them with medical, psychological and vocational counseling; grant them free City Colleges tuition; and require the Chicago Public Schools to teach a history lesson about Burge’s reign of terror.

For Holmes, the $75,000 to 100,000 would be a whole lot more than repayment for the crucial testimony he provided in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial that culminated in Burge’s 2010 conviction.

It would be a chance to get the counseling he needs to heal his emotional wounds.

“I need some help. I still have nightmares. I don’t know what withdrawals they can help me from. But if they can help vets who came back from Vietnam, then they can help me,” said Holmes, whose name has never been cleared.

“All of us are like that. Every last one of us. You might not see it, but people come home, their wife do something stupid and they end up killing them or they might hurt them. Or they might just kill themselves because of the pressure we’ve been under for all of these years.”

When the ordinance was first introduced more than a year ago, Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton dismissed it, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that it would be “very difficult to justify spending taxpayer dollars to settle a claim that’s barred.”

On Thursday, Emanuel reiterated his prior apology to torture victims, but made no mention of reparations. “While Jon Burge [leaves] prison today, the horrible stain he left on Chicago’s history remains and we sympathize with his victims. He is a disgrace to the hard working men and women at CPD and a disgrace to our City — and most importantly he has negatively impacted the lives of the very people he was sworn to protect,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

“On behalf of the city of Chicago, I want to once again apologize to the victims and their families for the injustices they have suffered and reaffirm my pledge as mayor to do everything in my power to right these wrongs and bring a close to this dark chapter in Chicago’s history.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Joey Mogul argued that Emanuel “manages to find the money for his pet projects” in spite of the city’s financial crisis. She also called reparations the only way to restore public trust between citizens and police in the black community so damaged by Burge’s “disgusting” actions.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Flint Taylor then issued a thinly veiled political warning to Emanuel, who has been trying to rebuild his image with African-American voters who helped put him in office, but abandoned him in droves when he closed a record 50 Chicago Public Schools.

“There’s definitely a political downside for the mayor if he doesn’t step forward and step forward quickly,” said Taylor, who noted that the $20 million in reparations would be equal to the amount Chicago taxpayers have spent to defend Burge, his co-horts and former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who served as state’s attorney during Burge’s torture spree.

“We’ve heard from Karen Lewis . . . With a majority of the aldermen on board for this ordinance, the powers that be in this city should take it seriously. If they don’t, they’re going to have to answer for that at the polls.”

For decades, Burge and his “midnight crew” were accused of systematically torturing African-American suspects. The claims were never investigated and verified until the statute of limitations had run out. He was finally brought to justice in 2011 when he was convicted of perjury for lying in civil lawsuits connected to that torture.

On the strength of Holmes’ testimony and others, Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years for lying under oath about police torture. He was released Thursday after getting time off for good behavior. He’s expected to spend his final 3 1/2 months at a halfway house near his home in the Tampa area.

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