Justice

How Chicago Is Finally Coming To Grips With Its Dark History Of Police Torture

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More than 30 years after he was brutally tortured by Chicago detectives, Darrell Cannon may finally see what he calls a “measure of justice.”

In November 1983, three detectives arrested Cannon and accused him of ordering a drug dealer’s murder. He confessed — but only after he was taken to a room on the South Side where the detectives attempted to hang him by his handcuffs and played Russian roulette with a shotgun as he answered questions, among other “sadistic” acts of torture, he said.

“And then the detective forced the shotgun in my mouth,” the 64-year-old Chicago resident told ThinkProgress. “He chipped my front teeth and he split my lip. And then they used the electric cattle prod and they laid me in the back seat of a detective car sideways with my feet hanging outside the car and my hands handcuffed behind me. They pulled my pants and shorts down and repeatedly electric shocked me with the prod.”

Cannon ultimately served 24 years for a crime he maintained he did not commit. While he has been out of prison for more than seven years, he has yet to see any compensation from the city for the torture and has not been issued an apology.

But that could change under a settlement announced Tuesday that would make Chicago the first city in the country to offer reparations and an official apology to victims of police misconduct. Cannon is one of more than 100 torture victims who will be eligible for the $5.5 million reparations package proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of the Chicago City Council.

Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 when a review board confirmed his decades-long scheme of torture, but it wasn’t until 13 years later that special prosecutors found evidence of widespread torture under his command. Under Burge, the prosecutors found, a team of detectives were alleged to have tortured more than 100 mostly black suspects into falsely confessing to crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.

“All of us who are involved are gratified that survivors who had been locked out of being able to get anything will now be able to get some of their needs met,” Mariame Kaba, an advisory board member of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials — the group that proposed the settlement — told ThinkProgress. She added that the settlement is less than the $20 million originally requested, but will still provide some much needed assistance for torture victims.

“The vast majority of the people were are considered documented survivors of Burge have no recourse at all,” she said. “Their statute of limitations has expired so they’re not going to ever get a cent of money from the state. So this is mainly for them.”

Stanley Wrice was also tortured by detectives under Burge in the 1980s. However, Wrice told ThinkProgress he will likely turn down the settlement because he has a lawsuit currently pending against the city seeking his own damages. “Not just the reparations but the apology too is well deserved,” he said.

Although many have been exonerated and are no longer serving time on wrongful convictions, victims of torture under Burge have suffered psychological issues which the ordinance will also attempt to address. Wrice said he has suffered post-traumatic stress and still experiences panic attacks in crowded places, more than a year after his release.

Under the package, victims would be provided money for psychological and substance abuse counseling and victims’ immediate family members would be eligible for free city college tuition. The city would also establish a permanent memorial and lessons on Burge torture would be added to the Chicago Public Schools curriculum. Each victim who qualifies would receive an equal share of the fund.

The ordinance would also call for rehearings for the torture survivors still in prison who claim they were coerced into confessions.

Cannon said the settlement, which provides up to $100,000 for each victim, isn’t enough for him to feel like justice has been served, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“Until I can get Burge’s pension taken away from him, justice can never be fully done,” Cannon said, referring to the $4,000-a-month pension Burge continues to collect. “But what they’re doing today is in fact a very good start… For too long now, this nasty, ugly, vicious secret has been swept under the rug but now it’s time to come to grips with the whole thing and to do something that would give us a measure of justice. Everything in the reparations does just that.”

The ordinance would also likely set an example for other cities and states on how best to deal with police misconduct, Kaba said.

“It offers an alternative view of what justice could look like for people who are harmed,” she said.

“That people deserve to be made whole again, to the extent that they can be. That healing is important. That acknowledgement of harm is important. And that people need concrete things to be able to move through the harm and the main.”

Cannon said the reparations package would be historic and “hopefully other cities will follow suit.”

“Chicago is the city that continually spoke out about police brutality so it’s only fitting that we’re the first to this goal,” he said.

Burge served four and a half years in prison on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice – the statute of limitations had passed for any criminal charges.

John Byrne, one of the detectives who tortured Cannon and Wrice, continues to deny the torture claims. He told the Chicago Tribune that the reparations deal is a “scam perpetuated on taxpayers” and that Burge has taken the blame. “These inmates got together and collaborated and then everybody jumped on the bandwagon,” he said.

The city has already spent almost $100 million on Burge-related settlements and legal fees. Mayor Emanuel said in a statement on Tuesday that the settlement is a way “to try and right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close.”

But while Emanuel would like to say the chapter has come to a close, a recent investigation by the Guardian found that the Chicago police department is running an interrogation facility in what lawyers have called the the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. At the facility, officers beat suspects, keep them shackled for prolonged periods of time, deny attorneys and keep people out of official booking databases.

The reparations ordinance is a historic moment that will also help to address the current situation of police abuse in Chicago, said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago Law School professor who focuses on police brutality. The additions to the public school history curriculum will help to ensure that the dark chapters of the city’s history are never repeated, he said.

Futterman pointed out that when when the Burge torture and other abuses were uncovered, the inclination has been to say, “That was then, this is now. This couldn’t happen again.” However, he said, “some of the same underlying conditions that allowed Burge and his henchmen to torture black prisoners with impunity, back into the 70s, 80s and even early 90s still exist today and haven’t been fixed. This is the kind of measure that goes toward meaningful redress, learning from history and beginning a conversation about present day reality.”