CITY HALL — As notorious former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge was being released from prison Thursday, aldermen and others backing reparations for his torture victims renewed their call for a $20 million fund to atone and to reward and compensate them.
"It's time for the City Council to make amends," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), lead sponsor of the proposed reparations ordinance, in a Thursday news conference at City Hall. He lauded Mayor Rahm Emanuel's public apology for police torture a year ago, but noted: "Apologies are great, but they don't pay the bills."
Anthony Holmes, a Burge torture victim who has become the public face of those seeking reparations after serving a full 30-year sentence for a murder he says he didn't commit, said now Burge would know the stigma of being released from prison, adding, "At least he's got a pension. We came out of there with nothing."
Holmes was one of Burge's earliest known torture victims, in 1973. He said he was electrically shocked by Burge himself, who also put a plastic bag over his head. A signed confession elicited under torture led to his conviction. Yet, because Holmes served his entire term and the statute of limitations had expired on the offenses committed against him, he has not received any compensation from the city
According to attorney Joey Mogul, who has pressed the cause of police torture victims through the People's Law Office and the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project, there are about 115 known victims of police torture in Chicago. The torture was committed over 20 years from the early '70s to the early '90s at the hands of Burge and his so-called midnight crew and others associated with them, Mogul said. She said only about 16, however, had received any sort of legal compensation from the city.
Joined by Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Joe Moore (49th), Moreno claimed the support of 26 colleagues, a majority of the City Council, and called Burge a "terrorist."
Moore said reparations would provide "final closure on this stain on the city's legacy."
"It's time for Mayor Emanuel to step up," said attorney Flint Taylor, co-founder of the People's Law Office. "There's definitely a political downside if the mayor doesn't step forward and step forward quickly."
The mayor repeated his apology Thursday in response and expressed sympathy and support for Burge's victims, without committing to reparations.
"While Jon Burge will leave prison today, the horrible stain he left on Chicago’s history remains and we sympathize with his victims," Emanuel said in a statement. "He is a disgrace to the hard-working men and women at CPD and a disgrace to our city — and, most important, he has negatively impacted the lives of the very people he was sworn to protect.
"On behalf of the City of Chicago, I want to once again apologize to the victims and their families for the injustices they have suffered and reaffirm my pledge as mayor to do everything in my power to right these wrongs and bring a close to this dark chapter in Chicago’s history."
Supporters are seeking a hearing on the ordinance before the Finance Committee. Moreno said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the committee, has "indicated he's willing to hear it."
The ordinance would create a $20 million reparations fund, administered by a commission assigned to affirm claims. Supporters say it's the amount of money the city has already paid to defend Burge, other officers and Richard M. Daley, the former mayor commonly named in Burge suits as the Cook County state's attorney for much of the time the torture was committed.
It would also provide psychological counseling and health care to victims, as well as free tuition at the City Colleges of Chicago. It would require the city to create public memorials on the torture, and to have the topic addressed in Chicago Public Schools.
The criminal and civil statute of limitations expired on many of Burge's torture offenses, but he was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 and was eventually convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in lying about the torture in 2010 and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Holmes testified against Burge in that federal trial. Burge served three years before being released to a halfway house in Florida on Thursday.
The city has paid $64 million in court settlements on Burge-related torture cases filed before the statute of limitations ran out.
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