The city of Chicago announced a $5.5 million dollar reparations package for victims of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who for decades ran a torture ring that tormented and abused more than 100 black men on the city’s South Side.
The measure is an effort to close one of the darkest chapters in the city in recent memory.
Burge led a crew of detectives that terrorized the city’s predominantly black South Side throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. The torture ring routinely used electrical shock, burning and beatings during interrogations in order to force numerous false confessions.
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"Jon Burge's actions are a disgrace to Chicago, to the hard-working men and women of the police department, and most importantly to those he was sworn to protect," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. "Today, we stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago's history to a close."
Burge was eventually fired in 1993 and, in 2006, an investigation by the Cook County prosecutor found evidence of widespread abuses committed by Burge and his goons. But by then, the statute of limitations had expired. He was ultimately convicted by federal prosecutors in 2010 of perjury for lying about police torture that he oversaw. That conviction resulted in a mere four and a half years in prison for Burge.
"Jon Burge’s actions are a disgrace to Chicago, to the hard-working men and women of the police department, and most importantly to those he was sworn to protect."'
Burge was released from a Florida prison last October, sending shivers through many of his surviving victims and through the neighborhoods over which he once ran roughshod.
"While the Burge-era may have ended years ago, today we finally and fully address the ramifications of his terrible actions. Under Mayor Emanuel, we have seen Chicago own up to its past and find justice for those who were wronged by Jon Burge so we may move forward together as one city," said Alderman Howard Brookins, chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.
As part of the package, the city will publicly recognize the torture committed by Burge, offer financial reparations for his victims, as well as myriad other services aimed at helping to bring closure for those impacted by the former commander's misdeeds.
Burge’s victims, their immediate family and their grandchildren will receive free tuition and job training at City College tuition and job training. The city will also offer them psychological, family, substance abuse, and other counseling services, and create new reentry or transitional job programs for those victims coming out of incarceration and senior care. The victims will also receive health services and small business assistance.
Attorney’s Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and the People's Law Office have represented many of Burge’s victims and were involved in the negotiations with the city. In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the pair said the package removes a “stain” from the city’s conscience.
"We are gratified, that after so many years of denial by many, that Mayor Emanuel has acknowledged the harm inflicted by the torture and recognized the needs of the Burge torture survivors and their families by negotiating this historic reparations agreement,” they said. “This legislation is the first of its kind in this country, and its passage and implementation will go a long way to remove the longstanding stain of police torture from the conscience of the city."
The package is the culmination of months of negotiations between city leaders, stakeholders and Burge’s victims and could signal the end of a long and costly legal war.
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According to In These Times, the Burge affair has cost taxpayers more than $120 million, including more than $22 million in pension costs for Burge and his former cohorts, plus an additional $15 million in investigating and prosecuting Burge’s crimes.
In September 2013, Emanuel offered the first apology to Burge’s victims on behalf of the city of Chicago.
"After years of delays, today's action is one of justice for Jon Burge's victims, and it finally brings an end to this painful chapter in Chicago's history book," said Alderman Joe Moore. "It's been more than 20 years since Jon Burge worked as a police officer, but today Mayor Emanuel has proven his commitment to justice and accountability for all those who suffered so long ago."