One year after apologizing for the police torture of black suspects by convicted Area 2 Commander Jon Burge, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday danced around demands for a $20 million city fund to compensate 94 torture victims who couldn’t sue because the statute of limitations has run out.
At one point, Emanuel appeared to crack the door open to the idea, telling reporters that there are “a number of things” that the reparations ordinance demanded that he was prepared to “look at and work through.”
“On the money piece, we have to study it,” the mayor said, without ruling it out.
“As we get ready for what we have to do from a financial standpoint, there must be some way to address those whose statute of limitations has run out. But that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to do it.”
The mayor was asked whether that answer should be construed as a “yes, no or maybe.”
With trademark sarcasm, he replied, “I don’t know. You’ve got all three answers.”
Turning serious, Emanuel reminded reporters that he has already gone a long way toward erasing one of the ugliest and most undermining chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.
He’s done that by settling the Burge cases he inherited, trying to cut off Burge’s city pension, even though it didn’t work, and by issuing the public apology that torture victims have long demanded, but former Mayor Richard M. Daley refused to give.
“What happened here is wrong. It is not right. It’s a stain on the city’s reputation. And that’s why I tried to right a wrong as well as verbalize it,” the mayor said.
As for the $20 million fund, Emanuel said, “There are things that were mentioned that we’ll work through. As it relates to reparations, I need time to evaluate it. I don’t think that’s the course we should take.”
Flint Taylor, an attorney representing torture victims, responded to the mayor’s verbal tap dancing by reiterating his political warning to a mayor who’s been trying to rebuild his image witih African-American voters who helped put him in office, but abandoned him droves when he closed a record 50 Chicago Public Schools.
Taylor said he spoke at Operation PUSH last week and was interviewed by four African-American radio stations about Burge’s release from prison.
“There is still a tremendous amount of outrage at the unfairness of Burge getting his pension, the city paying $20 million to defend him and not compensating men who have gotten little or nothing despite being tortured by Burge,” Taylor said.
“They would reflect that at the polls. I would be hopeful they would if he doesn’t do the right thing here. The political repercussions of him not supporting this important ordinance cannot be overstated.”
Burge’s release from a North Carolina prison last week triggered renewed demands for reparations and City Council approval of an ordinance that has languished in committee for more than a year.
Co-signed by 26 aldermen and embraced by Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, the ordinance 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 “at least 30 or 40” torture victims with no other financial redress; establish 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 decades, Burge was accused of overseeing a “midnight crew” that systematically tortured African-American suspects. The 66-year-old former commander was finally brought to justice in 2011, when he was convicted of perjury for lying in civil lawsuits connected to that torture.
Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years for lying under oath about police torture, but got 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.