Former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
On September 11, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, acceding to a longstanding community demand, apologized for decades of torture by police officers of black suspects under former Police Commander Jon Burge. He called it a “dark chapter in the history of the city of Chicago,” and a “stain on the city's reputation.” “All of us,” he said, are “sorry for what happened.”
The unprecedented apology came just after the Chicago City Council approved a $12.3 million settlement to Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves, both tortured by Burge and his crew of brutal detectives. Kitchen gave a false confession as a result of this torture; both he and Reeves were wrongfully convicted and spent twenty-one years in prison, with Kitchen spending thirteen of those years on death row.
The City of Chicago has now paid more than $20 million in “pinstripe patronage” to private lawyers to defend Burge, former Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City of Chicago, approximately $65 million in settlements to eighteen of the 120 known African-American victims of Burge-related torture and more than $500,000 to Burge in pension money. Cook County, whose prosecutors, under the lead of former State’s Attorney Daley, knew of the torture and actively covered it up, have expended an additional $10.7 million in lawyers’ fees, and the federal government and its court system have easily spent more than $5 million during its six-year torture investigation, its successful prosecution of Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice, the litigation of numerous civil torture cases brought by wrongfully convicted torture victims and its housing of Burge at the federal penitentiary at Butner, North Carolina, where he is serving his four-and-a-half-years sentence. With the Kitchen and Reeves settlement, which will unfortunately once again relieve Daley of his dreaded obligation to testify at deposition about his thirty-year involvement in the torture scandal, the taxpayer’s tab now exceeds $100 million with no end in sight.
While the financial burden that the forty-year police torture scandal has inflicted is in itself stunning, the harm that it has visited goes far beyond that. The brutal racism that Burge and his men visited upon their victims from 1972 until Burge was removed from the force more than twenty years later mirrored the violence of slavery, lynchings and Jim Crow, with its dehumanization being imported from the US military’s torture chambers in South Vietnam. The entire Cook County criminal justice system was also deeply corrupted by the scandal, with prosecutors and judges fueling wrongful prosecutions by willfully obtaining and gladly accepting false confessions that were the product of torture, and the blatant perjury that was a necessary partner in this brutal microcosm of the new Jim Crow. And this scandal has implicated the long reigning former Mayor of the City of Chicago, and the highest officials in the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County State’s Attorneys’ Office.