Burge torture victims demand $20 million reparations fund
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Victims tortured by convicted Area 2 Commander Jon Burge demanded Thursday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel put $20 million behind his public apology for the “ugly stain” on the Chicago Police Department — by pressuring the City Council to approve a stalled reparations ordinance.
Three months after Emanuel cracked the door open to compensating dozens of torture victims who couldn’t sue because the statute of limitations had run out, Darrell Cannon threatened political retribution Feb. 24 if the mayor doesn’t cough up the cash.
“If you do not stand up and do the right thing, then we the citizens of Chicago will, in fact, stand up and do the right thing to see that someone else gets in office. This may not have happened on your shift, but you are now the caretaker,” said Cannon, a 65-year-old torture victim.
“The only way you’re going to right the wrongs done to us is to give us a measure of justice. Reparations will not end the bitterness I still feel by having been tortured by Chicago Police. Nothing will change that. But what will change the equation . . . would be the reparations ordinance passed, sanctioned by the mayor.”
He added, “Please know mayor, we are not going away. We intend to be here until doomsday, if necessary. You will hear us. We will have a hearing. We will have a vote….You may think you are a shoo-in for re-election. But we’re here to say, `Na, na, na, na, na. Don’t take us for granted.”
Torture victim Mark Clements noted that none of Burge’s torture victims has ever received psychological counseling paid for by the city.
“What does any type of reparations look like? It looks like respect. It looks like, `Stop playing political football.’ It looks like showing a true sorrow for the wrongs that occurred to the men affected as a result of this torture,” Clements said.
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel must wake up to the realization that just apologizing — it does not give me a job. It does not pay my bills. It does not get me on the CTA. At least this reparation will give me some type of normalcy in my life. It will give me an opportunity to go to school and receive some type of psychological counseling.”
Cannon is a posture child for the reparations ordinance that has support from 26 aldermen.
He spent 24 in prison for a murder he did not commit after he was tortured into confessing by Burge co-horts who allegedly put an electric cattle prod on his genitals and placed a shotgun in his mouth. The charges were dismissed in 2004.
But not before a court-appointed attorney representing Cannon advised him to accept a meager $3,000 to satisfy Cannon’s torture complaint.
That 1988 settlement was the first, of what would be tens of millions in settlements to emerge from Burge’s reign of terror. It was long before more than 100 other cases were settled and before Burge himself was sent to prison for lying under oath about the alleged torture.
After his murder conviction was dismissed, Cannon tried to sue again. But a federal appeals court subsequently ruled that he was bound by the $3,000 settlement.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, was singled out for criticism by Burge torture victims because the reparations ordinance is stalled in his committee.
On Thursday, Burke was non-committal when asked whether he intends to hold a hearing, saying he wants to read the ordinance again.
Asked whether Burge victims are entitled to more than a mayoral apology, he said, “Clearly, these are always rather emotional matters that have been around this building for a long time now. But by the same token, $20 million is a very significant amount of money.”
Mayoral spokesman Adam Collins responded to the renewed demand for reparations by keeping the door open.
“As the Mayor has said previously, just because the statute of limitations is over doesn’t mean our obligations as a City are over,” Collins wrote in an email.
“We have been communicating with the aldermen involved in this effort and have been working on ideas to bring a close that dark chapter of the City’s history. We look forward to meeting with stakeholders in the near future to discuss those proposals and next steps.”
Last fall, Emanuel opened the door to reparations, but said he’s not certain $20 million is the appropriate figure, nor has he pinpointed where the money would come from in a city budget that already includes $54.5 million in targeted tax hikes and loophole closings that amount to the same.
But for the first time, the mayor acknowledged that something more needs to be done to erase one of the ugliest and most undermining chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.
“Because the law says the statute of limitations are over doesn’t mean our obligations are over,” the mayor said during a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.
“I don’t know — nor does anybody else — where you’re gonna find the money for $20 million and whether that’s the right number. I don’t know whether it’s 10 million. I don’t know whether $20 million is right. I don’t know whether it’s $5 million. I don’t whether it’s $4 million.”
Emanuel noted then that he has already gone a long way toward erasing, what he called “this stain” on the city’s history.
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.
“I know what I’ve done since the day I got here to deal with a problem I inherited that not only was dollars and cents but was also contradictory to… the values we hold together. I haven’t finished it,” Emanuel said.
“It’s not in my budget. I’m gonna try to work through certain issues — consistent with everything I’ve done before.”
The stalled reparations ordinance, first introduced in October, 2013, would serve as a formal apology to Burge “survivors” but go far beyond Emanuel’s words.
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 Area 2 commander was finally brought to justice in 2011 when he was convicted of perjury for lying in civil lawsuits connected to torture.
Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison but got time off for good behavior. He’s now in a halfway house near his home in the Tampa area.