By Andrew Emett
Responsible for torturing more than 200 people to obtain false confessions, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge has cost the city and Cook County over $100 million in legal fees and settlements. On Monday, the city of Chicago paid out $5.5 million in reparations to 57 of Burge’s victims, while the corrupt former police commander continues to receive his $4,000 monthly pension from the city.
Between 1972 and 1991, Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his men tortured hundreds of people to extract forced confessions from them. Up to 200 torture victims have accused Burge of using cattle prods on their genitals, plastic bags to cause suffocation, phone books to strike their heads, burning them on radiators, and forcing guns into their mouths during interrogations. Suspended from the department in 1991, Burge was fired two years later after the Police Department Review Board ruled that he had tortured hundreds of people.
In 1973, Burge and his men arrested Anthony Holmes before torturing him at the police station. After hooking him up to an electrical box and placing a bag over his head, the officers repeatedly electrocuted Holmes until forcing a false homicide confession from him. Holmes spent 30 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit because Burge tortured a confession out of him instead of tracking down the real killer.
Due to the fact that the Cook County District Attorney’s Office and the Chicago Police Department both turned a blind eye to Burge’s human rights violations, the statute of limitations allowed him to get away with torturing 200 people. During his two decades on the force, Burge received 13 commendations and a letter of praise from the Department of Justice before his termination.
In October 2008, the Justice Department finally charged Burge with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury. Because U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald could not charge him with 20 years of torture, Burge was eventually convicted of providing false statements in a civil lawsuit alleging his use of torture. Although he was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison, Burge continues to collect his $4,000 monthly pension from the city.
Last spring, the City Council agreed to make Chicago the nation’s first major city to pay reparations 44 years after the first known instance of torture committed by Burge and his men. After Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of a $5.5 million city fund for Burge’s victims, the former police commander condemned the decision by stating, “I find it hard to believe that the city’s political leadership could even contemplate giving ‘Reparations’ to human vermin.”
On Monday, 57 of Burge’s torture victims each received $100,000 from the city of Chicago. Since a few victims had already received previous settlements, those amounts were deducted from their shares. Family members of deceased Burge victims were ineligible for financial reparations but were still eligible for non-financial reparations, including prioritized access to senior care services, health services, job training, small business assistance, and specialized counseling services.
Besides formally apologizing and paying the reparations, the city has also agreed to begin teaching students about Burge’s legacy of corruption in Chicago’s public schools. Beginning this school year, eighth- and tenth-grade students will examine Burge’s crimes in U.S. History in regards to police brutality and the violation of constitutional rights.
Instead of showing an ounce of competence, Burge and his officers forced confessions out of innocent people resulting in numerous overturned convictions. Although he failed to protect the streets of Chicago, Burge did inadvertently cause many police departments to adopt the policy of mandated video interrogations. Although most government employees are not required to wear cameras and record their actions, cops have proven over and over again that they simply cannot be trusted.
Andrew Emett writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com