CITY HALL — The mayor formally moved Wednesday to create a reparations fund for torture victims of notorious Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Joined by lead sponsors Aldermen Joe Moreno (1st), Howard Brookins Jr. (21st) and Joe Moore (49th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted an ordinance at Wednesday's City Council meeting to create a $5.5 million reparations fund.
The measure actually has three prongs: public recognition through a formal apology, a permanent memorial and teaching the topic in Chicago Public Schools; financial assistance with a maximum of $100,000 going to each of the estimated 118 Burge torture victims; and non-financial assistance including counseling and free City College tuition for the victims and their families.
"Jon Burge's actions are a disgrace — to Chicago, to the hard-working men and women of the Police Department and, most important, to those he was sworn to protect," Emanuel said. "Today, we stand together as a city to try to right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago's history to a close."
"While the Burge era may have ended years ago, today we finally and fully address the ramifications of his terrible actions," Brookins said. "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."
"We have a moral and ethical duty to help these victims and their families," Moreno added. "We hope and trust that the healing and forgiving process can begin with the passage of this legislation."
Attorneys Joey Mogul and G. Flint Taylor, who spearheaded the drive for reparations through the People's Law Office and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, issued a statement saying: "We are gratified that, after so many years of denial by many, 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 called the legislation "the first of its kind in this country," in that Chicago is believed to be the first U.S. city to pay reparations for police violence.
According to Amnesty International USA, which also supported the proposal, Chile, Argentina and South Africa have previously paid torture reparations.
According Mogul, the Burge torture, conducted by the notorious Area 2 commander and his "midnight crew," took place over 20 years from 1972 to 1991, when Burge was suspended from the Police Department. He was fired two years later, but delays and denials on the part of the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley saw statute of limitations deadlines pass on crimes he committed, although he was later found guilty of perjury in 2010 for lying about torture practices and served three years in prison. He continues to collect his police pension.
The Burge scandal will be taught to eighth- and 10th-grade CPS students in U.S. history.
The city has meted out $64 million in settlements to Burge torture survivors, but early victims, such as Holmes and Cannon, saw statute-of-limitation deadlines expire on their cases and received no compensation. The $5.5 million reparations fund would cap awards at $100,000 a person, so those who received hefty earlier settlements would not be eligible.
The measure is expected to be ready for passage at the next City Council meeting May 6.
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