The city of Chicago has now made history as the first American city to offer reparations for victims of police brutality.
In a unanimous vote announced on Wednesday, the city agreed to pay a total of roughly $5.5 million to those who were subjected to brutality and torture at the hands of former Police Commander Jon Burge and officers who served under him.
In 1972, Burge put together a team of rogue cops and detectives that called themselves the Midnight Crew. For nearly two decades the group tortured over 100 suspects, mostly Black men, in horrific displays of brutality that would have many questioning their humanity.
One of the victims, Darrell Cannon, shared his experience with the City Council, revealing that the officers took him to a secluded location where they promised “no one would hear his screams,” Next City reports. Cannon said they then used electric cattle prods on his testicles before shoving the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth for a horrifying game of Russian roulette. It’s a heinous act that was done all in the name of securing a false confession from Cannon.
With so many victims opening up about experiences that were just as atrocious as Cannon’s, it paints the picture of some sort of Hollywood-produced thriller rather than an actual police force in one of America’s most prominent cities.
But that’s the bleak reality of police brutality even 40 years after the Midnight Crew emerged. Police brutality has become a common occurrence in predominantly Black and impoverished communities.
After the city announced the reparations package, officials expressed hopes that it will help Chicago move beyond one of its darkest chapters.
“This is truly a historic day for this City Council and most importantly for the victims of this horrific behavior that happened right here in Chicago,” said Alderman Joe Moreno at the meeting on Wednesday, as reported by Next City. “I want to thank you, Mr. Mayor, for moving forward this terrible chapter in Chicago when others preceding you did not even want to acknowledge it. Unfortunately we will not ever close the Burge chapter but we’ve come a long way.”
While Moreno was expressing gratitude, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was passing the thanks on to the police victims and their families for being brave enough to speak out about their ordeal. He thanked the families and the victims for having the “persistence” necessary to fight for the right thing and allowing Chicago to “confront its past.”
“What happened here in this action today is that Chicago finally will confront its past and come to terms with it,” Emanuel said. “This stain cannot be removed from our history but it can be used as a lesson of what not to do and the responsibility that all of us have.”
The victims will receive up to $100,000 in reparations as well as free tuition in city colleges for them and their immediate family. Other services like counseling will also be available to the families and victims as part of the reparations package.
Emanuel added that these benefits are “another step” and “an essential step in righting a wrong—removing a stain on the reputation” of Chicago.
Burge was fired years ago, back in 1993, and he was convicted in 2010 of obstruction of justice and perjury. Neither of the charges were directly related to him being the ring leader of the Midnight Crew. He only served four and half years behind bars before being released in 2014. He also still receives a police pension.
These are the issues that money, not even in the amount of $5.5 million, can’t fix—the perpetuation of the idea that police officers are above the law and rarely have to be held accountable for their actions, no matter how cruel and inhumane they may be.
Even as the Midnight Crew has been disbanded, Black citizens continue to be the victims of torture at the hands of police, causing tensions to erupt in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson.
So as the city prepares to do what it can to help cope with the atrocities of its past, one can only hope officials realize the importance of addressing the ugly realities of racial discrimination and police brutality that still plague it today, and could easily creep into the city’s future.