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Reading, writing and torture: CPS kids to learn about Jon Burge cases

Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon, victims of the former Police Commander Jon Burge, at a press conference for CPS Leadership and CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson to Unveil Burge Reparations Curriculum, Monday, August 28, 2017. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Call it reading, writing and torture.

Chicago Public Schools students this year will learn about a dark, and controversial era of the city’s history, with all 8th- and 10th-graders citywide assigned to study a new curriculum detailing the allegations of torture by Chicago Police detectives under the watch of disgraced former Cmdr. Jon Burge.

The new curriculum was developed as part of the settlement with victims who alleged they were beaten, suffocated and shocked by Burge’s “midnight crew” in the 1980s and 1990s – allegations city officials long denied during decades of litigation before passing a reparations ordinance last year that included adding a history lesson to CPS curriculum, setting aside $5.5 million for victims of police torture and building a monument.

Standing in front of Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes, who claim they were suffocated and shocked by Area 2 detectives, Supt. Eddie Johnson seemed eager to relegate the Burge years to history — even as the police department’s reputation has plunged in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“We can’t tolerate those things and we simply cannot have those things and have those things occur, so, on behalf of Chicago Police Department, I want to apologize to Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes for what they went through,” Johnson said Monday at a press conference at the CPS Central Office.

“But I think it’s important to know that that Chicago Police Department does not exist anymore and it will not exist.”

Holmes said he was tortured into confessing to a murder he didn’t commit the 1970s, and spent 30 years in prison, while Cannon said he was convicted based on a false confession a decade later.

Cannon and Holmes were among the more than 100 African-American defendants who said Burge and his subordinates tortured them into confessions. Holmes said he only confessed to a killing he did not commit after Burge suffocated him and shocked him with a “black box” built to shock suspects. Holmes later testified against Burge when the detective was on trial for perjury in federal court. Burge was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for lying about abusing suspects.

City officials under former Mayor Richard M. Daley — who had been Cook County State’s Attorney — had for years fought allegations of torture by police made in lawsuits, while paying out more than $100 million in legal fees and settlements in dozens of cases stemming from Burge-era misconduct. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Johnson are among those who have accepted the allegations against Burge as fact, rank-and-file officers are more circumspect.

Martin Preib, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the city’s largest police union, pointed to evidence of misconduct in the “wrongful conviction movement” and called for a review of cases. Preib is a frequent critic of former Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess, whose work paved the way for numerous exonerations in wrongful conviction cases, but who was forced out at NU amid accusations that he manipulated witnesses into making false statements. “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,” Preib wrote in a statement.

Janice Jackson, Chief Education officer for CPS, said the curriculum was developed with input from victims, police officers and CPS officials, and revised after a pilot curriculum was tested at six CPS schools last year. Lesson plans released Monday show that the curriculum is heavy on group discussions on topics like the nature of police work, constitutional rights, students’ attitudes about police, designing an ideal department.