In Chicago, a city known for its recent police scandals, victims tortured and abused by officers decades ago have finally received reparations.
According to NPR, 57 people have received $5.5 million in reparations from the city. The victims, Black men, were tortured by police unit Area 2, which was led by former commander Jon Burge from the 1970s until the early 1990s. Burge had a reputation for being one of the worst cops in a police department known for a legacy of dirt and corruption. Over the decades, Burge tortured more than 100 Black men, even coercing murder confessions out of them and sending them to prison and to Illinois death row, which has since been shut down amid the scandal and a death penalty moratorium that followed.
The techniques Burge employed on his Black victims were abhorrent, grisly and gruesome. For example, he staged mock executions, beat the men with flashlights, suffocated them, and even shocked their genitals with electric cattle prods. And yet, for all the damage he created and the lives he ruined, Burge received only 3 ½ years in prison and still collects a $3,000 monthly pension.
“Reparations is not a necessity. But it is a moral compunction and a moral reckoning to right a wrong. There is no statute of limitations on that,” Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times. “In three years, we settled up legally, reparations and a verbal apology what hasn’t been done in three decades,” Emanuel added. “It does indicate that I [am] willing to be accountable and willing to be held responsible for the city and have the determination, the desire and the diligence to get it done.”
The $5.5 million—approved by Emanuel and the city council in April—is part of over $100 million paid by the city of Chicago and Cook County in court-ordered judgments, settlements and legal fees, according to the Associated Press.
Reparations for Black torture victims, however appropriate and timely, will not undo the pain and suffering of these traumatized men whose lives were ruined. Moreover, it is unlikely that the reparations will allow Emanuel to overcome the troubles he faces over his rogue and racist police department. The gangland-style execution of Laquan McDonald, 17, by Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke, the city’s cover up of the incident, and the decision to wait a year before releasing the dash cam footage of the killing, has led to massive protest and calls for the mayor to resign. The video was released the same day Van Dyke was indicted for first-degree murder—a first among a most murderous police force. And the incident led the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate a civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department.
It is expected that one of the matters of interest to the federal authorities will be Homan Square, the off-the-grid, CIA-style detention facility where over 7,000 men, overwhelmingly Black, were disappeared under Emanuel’s watch. Some victims were reportedly abducted by masked men, and most of the arrests were for drug possession, with the arrest of boys as young as 15, and the detention of a 44-year old man leading to his death in custody. With few exceptions, the detainees were held for hours or days, denied phone calls and access to lawyers, with no public knowledge of their whereabouts. Some were forced to become informants. In a lawsuit, detainees further allege they were handcuffed in the dark for hours, threatened and subjected to racial slurs, and denied food, water and access to a bathroom.