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Chicago Kids to Be Taught About Burge Torture as Part of Reparations Deal

By Ted Cox | April 14, 2015 10:10am | Updated on April 14, 2015 11:03am
  Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge walks with members of his legal team into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Monday, June 28, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. Burge was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice. (Photo by Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
 Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge walks with members of his legal team into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Monday, June 28, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. Burge was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice. (Photo by Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
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Alex Garcia/Getty Images

CITY HALL — Chicago schoolchildren would be taught about the notorious Jon Burge torture scandal in eighth- and 10th-grade history classes, under a sweeping reparations package presented by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen.

The city has spent more than $64 million on legal settlements for Burge cases — and the proposal to be submitted at Wednesday's City Council meeting would add another $5.5 million in the form of a reparations fund, which is less than originally envisioned.

The matter was the subject of a Finance Committee hearing Tuesday that included graphic testimony on the nature of the torture Burge's victims endured.

Burge, a disgraced former South Side police commander, led a group of rogue cops known as the "midnight crew" in torturing suspects to get them to confess to crimes, from 1972 to the 1991, according to Joey Mogul, an attorney for the People's Law Office and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials. She estimated that 118 people were tortured by Burge and his subordinates — many of them innocent, most of them African-American.

 Aldermen Howard Brookins Jr. and Joe Moreno, sponsors of the original reparations ordinance, cheered Tuesday's compromise.
Aldermen Howard Brookins Jr. and Joe Moreno, sponsors of the original reparations ordinance, cheered Tuesday's compromise.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

After decades of accusations and investigations that saw statute-of-limitations deadlines expire — limiting the ability of victims to collect damages via lawsuits — Burge was convicted in 2010 of perjury related to a civil case involving police torture. Burge, now 67, was recently released from federal prison.

“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,” Emanuel said. “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.”

The Finance Committee scheduled a meeting on the issue Tuesday, as officials confirmed Chicago would create the $5.5 million reparations fund, lower than the $20 million originally proposed in an ordinance sponsored by Aldermen Joe Moreno (1st) and Howard Brookins Jr. (21st).

"It's fair, and I think it's something we can work with," Moreno said. "What's sufficient when you're talking about men who were tortured?"

Yet actual passage would be put off to May, after the mayor submits an amended ordinance at Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Brookins said Tuesday the delay, at least toward the end, was dictated by politics, as an earlier compromise on the part of the mayor could have been perceived as "a hokey attempt to win an election." He saluted the mayor for ultimately "doing the right thing."

Reparations supporters signaled they'd be willing to accept that compromise.

"This package is not perfect," Mogul said. "The financial compensation is not the amount we struggled for. But it does bring us closer to our goal of each claimant receiving $100,000."

Mogul later said she was "gratified" by the compromise and that $100,000 would be the maximum paid to a torture survivor. Those who have already received substantial settlements would not be eligible for more. Those who received less than $100,000 would be eligible to collect a total of $100,000.

Otherwise, supporters said they were getting much of what they sought: a formal apology from Mayor Emanuel and the City Council, a torture memorial, teaching about Burge torture as part of U.S. history classes in eighth and 10th grades in Chicago Public Schools, as well as free City Colleges tuition, job training and placement, and trauma counseling for the torture victims.

Mogul said many torture victims suffer from what amounts to post-traumatic stress disorder, with their family members suffering "secondary trauma." Family members too will be eligible for counseling and free tuition, with grandchildren of torture victims eligible to attend City Colleges for free.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she had a family member who was a Burge victim. "Justice will be done," she said, adding that torture produced "a pain money can't even pay for."

City Corporation Counsel Steve Patton said the package broke down into three parts: public recognition, financial assistance and non-financial assistance.

"We do this because we believe it's the right thing to do," Patton said, adding that it would "bring some healing to these old wounds."

Patton said CPS teaching on the "Burge case and its legacy" would begin with the next school year in the fall.

Dorothy Burge (no relation) of Black People Against Police Torture said such instruction is necessary "so our children will understand why this is such an important issue."

Compensation is open to "eligible claimants" who can prove torture at the hands of Burge and his associates. Mogul said there are 118 documented cases. Any contested claims will be determined by an arbitrator.

"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,” Brookins said.

Reparations backers have staged a long campaign, bringing in support from Amnesty International and pointing out Burge himself went free after serving jail time for perjury even as his victims sought justice.

Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, testified Tuesday that it was "time to turn the page on this shameful chapter in the history of this great city."

Hawkins cited torture reparations previously paid by Chile, Argentina and South Africa as a legal precedent. Mogul added that Chicago would be the first U.S. city to offer reparations for police violence.

"The city had no legal obligation to do this. But it certainly had a moral obligation," said Ald. Joe Moore (49th). "This is a wrong that needed to be righted."

G. Flint Taylor, of the People's Law Office, offered some thinly veiled criticism of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was Cook County state's attorney in the '80s when much of the torture took place and mayor in the '90s when it was being denied.

"The new mayor is not the old mayor," Taylor said. He cited Daley's tenure as "when all the money went to the wrong side of the struggle," including a "cover-up and denial."

Taylor said he recently confronted Burge face to face since he was released from prison. Taylor called the disgraced cop "a broken man," but said that he remained unrepentant.

The city has paid more than $64 million on settlements to Burge torture victims, but some, like early Burge torture victim Anthony Holmes, served their entire sentences for crimes they didn't commit only to have the statute of limitations expire on their own demands for justice.

Holmes, however, testified in Burge's federal perjury case, which led to Burge serving a three-year prison sentence. The disgraced ex-cop was fired from the Police Department in 1993.

Burge still collects a pension, but Emanuel has said his administration continues to look for ways to halt those payments.

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