Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo

Chicago to pay $5.5M to victims of police torture

Chicago will pay reparations — a first in the U.S. — to victims of police torture who are almost all black men

Chicago will pay a total of up to $5.5 million to dozens of people, almost all black men, tortured by the city's police in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, and make other reparations under an ordinance approved by the city council on Wednesday that is the first of its kind in the U.S.. 

“It is the first time that a municipality in the United States has ever offered reparations to those violated by law enforcement officials,” said Joey Mogul, a co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, partner at the People’s Law Office and drafter of the original reparations ordinance.

According to the Chicago Reporter the ordinance “draws from the United Nations Convention against Torture and human rights practices around the world, especially in nations that overcame the legacy of violent, repressive regimes.”

Last year, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called for its passage.

“We should, in fact, call them international human rights violations, Mogul told the Reporter. "So we can put it on the world stage and compare it to other atrocities elsewhere, because they are equivalent.”

The ordinance also calls for the city to provide psychological counseling, job placement aid and other services for torture victims.

“We are strong enough to say we were wrong,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after the vote. “Chicago will finally confront its past and come to terms with it.”

Chicago has long struggled to build trust between police and minority communities, and approval of the ordinance comes at a time of increased scrutiny on police use of force in the United States, particularly against black men.

Chicago and Cook County already have paid about $100 million in settlements and verdicts for lawsuits related to former Chicago police Cdr. Jon Burge. 

From 1972 through 1991, Burge and his officers allegedly tortured more than 100 African-Americans from the city’s impoverished South Side, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Men in custody were subjected to electric shocks, burns and mock executions, among other brutal acts, predominantly in order to extract confessions, reported The Guardian.

One, Darrell Cannon, spent 24 years in prison for murder, and was freed after a review found the evidence used against him was tainted, according to City Council testimony. Another, Anthony Holmes, served 13 years in prison for murder he says he did not commit.

Allegations swirled around Burge for more than two decades, but the city “fought the claims,” according to the Tribune.

Burge was fired in 1993. He was never criminally charged with torture, but he was convicted in 2010 of lying about torture in a civil case and served four and a half years in federal custody. He was released from a Florida halfway house in February.

‘We should, in fact, call them international human rights violations. So we can put it on the world stage and compare it to other atrocities elsewhere.’

Joey Mogul

People’s Law Office

Most of the victims of Burge's rogue detective group known as the Midnight Crew, were African-American men and a number of them were at the city council meeting on Wednesday.

Victims and their families and supporters — wearing “Reparations Now” T-shirts — stood and applauded the council's unanimous vote on the reparations. One of Burge’s victims sobbed.

“Chicago has taken a historic step to show the country, and the world, that there should be no expiration date on reparations for crimes as heinous as torture,” Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

Hawkins said the ordinance will help set a precedent for holding torturers accountable in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States.

Stephen Patton, chief lawyer for the city, told the Reporter that an arbitrator will determine who is eligible. The People’s Law Office will present the arbitrator with a list of torture survivors and supporting documentation.

Under the new measure, reparations from the $5.5 million approved on Wednesday would not be available for victims who have already had payouts from the city in civil lawsuits, but several dozen victims probably will be eligible, according to one of the lawyers.

The reparations package was developed with representatives of Burge's victims, Amnesty International, the People’s Law Office and city officials.

Though many years in the making, the issue of the reparations emerged as a factor in the February mayoral election. Supporters of the proposal threatened that if Emanuel didn’t back their cause, they would see to it that one of his challengers was elected, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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