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Columbia Journalism Review: A photojournalist tells the stories of Chicago police torture victims

Jackie Spinner, a professor at Columbia College who has invited me to speak to her international reporting classes several times and ex-Washington Post correspondent in Baghdad and elsewhere, wrote the first little bit of press about my current oral history and portrait project on victims of Chicago municipal police torture under former Commander Jon Burge. Burge was on active duty with the Chicago Police Department from 1973-1991 and subsequently fired in 1993 after an array of crimes involving the abuse of suspects in custody were exposed on his watch, including but not limited to beatings, burning and electro-torture. Graciously, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has ran a couple of the press photographs including one of Marvin Reeves, a man so gentle he was like an uncle when we spoke for nearly two hours in his sister’s Bronzeville apartment. He received a multi-million dollar settlement from the city of Chicago for the injustices done to him.

From Jackie’s article:

Now Rivkin, who grew up in the city, plans to spend the next year photographing these men and recording their stories. The project, supported a recent grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation, is designed to culminate in a multimedia exhibit that will be shown to the public in Chicago sometime later this year or early next.

“I want to hear their story in their words,” she says. “I am facilitating them getting their story out there. I am recording their voice and editing it for public consumption. But I’m not altering it.”

Rivkin was in elementary school in 1990 when the Chicago Reader published John Conroy’s first story exposing a stunningly brutal system of police torture under Burge. Later in high school, Rivkin rallied against the Illinois death penalty after stories emerged that nearly a dozen men ended up on death row after being tortured into giving confessions.

Read the whole story on CJR, “A photojournalist tells the stories of Chicago police torture victims“.

Burge Victims Speak (in progress)

“Torture can be an open secret in a democratic society. Apparently, successive Chicago police superintendents suppressed internal investigations that revealed torture, successive state’s attorneys knew of the torture but refused to investigate, and the state’s Felony Review Unit knowingly elicited and used tortured confessions. Approximately one-third of the current Cook County criminal court judges are former assistant state’s attorneys or Area 2 detectives who were involved in the torture cases. Courts and the public will also look the other way.” – Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy

Marvin Reeves, 56, stands near the front of the house he bought for his daughter in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois on November 29, 2015.  Reeves purchased and renovated the house with money he received in settlement from the City of Chicago after a codefendant, Ronald Kitchen, and he were both beaten so badly their families did not recognize them at arraignment and Kitchen confessed to a crime both were innocent of; Reeves spent 21 years incarcerated from 1988-2009 for a South Side arson that killed two women and three children and had received five consecutive life sentences.

Marvin Reeves, 56, stands near the front of the house he bought for his daughter in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois on November 29, 2015. Reeves purchased and renovated the house with money he received in settlement from the City of Chicago after a codefendant, Ronald Kitchen, and he were both beaten so badly their families did not recognize them at arraignment and Kitchen confessed to a crime both were innocent of; Reeves spent 21 years incarcerated from 1988-2009 for a South Side arson that killed two women and three children and had received five consecutive life sentences.

Stanley Wrice sits in the living room of the home he shares with his daughter and son-in-law in Calumet City, Illinois on November 4, 2015.  Wrice spent 31 years in jail for a crime he did not commit after a confession was extracted from him in 1982 by Chicago Police Area Two detectives who beat him using a rubber pipe with duct tape on both ends.

Stanley Wrice sits in the living room of the home he shares with his daughter and son-in-law in Calumet City, Illinois on November 4, 2015. Wrice spent 31 years in jail for a crime he did not commit after a confession was extracted from him in 1982 by Chicago Police Area Two detectives who beat him using a rubber pipe with duct tape on both ends.

Mark Clements, a victim of Chicago police torture that occurred while Jon Burge was Commander, sits in a park in the South Loop in Chicago, Illinois on August 16, 2015.  Clements was 16 when he was arrested, tortured and accused of arson and involvement in the death of four individuals inside the building where the fire occurred and convicted at 17 before serving 26 years for a crime he did not commit; while in initial detention, police beat a false confession out of him by striking him repeatedly and squeezing his genitals.

Mark Clements, a victim of Chicago police torture that occurred while Jon Burge was Commander, sits in a park in the South Loop in Chicago, Illinois on August 16, 2015. Clements was 16 when he was arrested, tortured and accused of arson and involvement in the death of four individuals inside the building where the fire occurred and convicted at 17 before serving 26 years for a crime he did not commit; while in initial detention, police beat a false confession out of him by striking him repeatedly and squeezing his genitals.

IWMF Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists Grant for “Burge Victims Speak”

Thrilled to announce for the first time in my life, I am being given a grant by the International Women’s Media Fund (IWMF) Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists to stay home and work. I’ll be spending the next year at least in Chicago interviewing and photographing survivors of municipal police torture under former Commander Jon Burge, who imported techniques such as electrotorture which he learned as a military police officer in Vietnam onto the streets of Chicago for nearly 20 years to force confessions from 1972 until he was suspended from the force in 1991 and fired in 1993. He later served four years for perjury but still receives a full city pension.

Very special thanks to everyone who has lent time, expertise, knowledge, and patience to this project so far, there are many of you to thank and a few of you who would rather I didn’t but know you have helped tremendously and I am filled with gratitude.

World Press Photo: Nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass

Thank you, Newsha Tavakolian for nominating me for this year’s World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. It is an honor and I am grateful.

Congrats as well to all other nominees.

UPDATE: Orwell wrote “Any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” That said, while sad I did not get it this year, grateful to Newsha Tavakolian for the nomination, everyone who has and continues to support my work and big congrats to all the talent who did. Take this and run with it.

Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul

My heart to the victims, their friends and family as well as the people of Istanbul and Turkey after today’s suicide bombing on Istiklal Caddesi, Europe’s busiest street, a major pedestrian thoroughfare aligned with shops and restaurants that cuts through the heart of the Beyoglu district from Taksim Square to the ferry boat terminals of Karaköy. There are more bombings and senseless deaths today in the world than the imagination could have dreamt possible at the close of the last century. Often they occur far from home, but every day it seems they dream up new ways to manage to bring it ever closer to home, wherever home is. Some of us have seen our cities struck, our friends hurt, killed, maimed or disappeared into the abyss of wars and attacks of the age of terror. For me, Istiklal is close to home because it was home.

Images from my archive of Istiklal in better times showcase the avenue as at the center of political, social and economic life in Istanbul:

Nationalist demonstrators march after the lower house of the French parliament passed legislation making it a crime to deny genocide, a move specifically intended to bolster support among the large Armenian diaspora in France, on Istiklal Street in the Beyoglu neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey on December 21, 2011.

Nationalist demonstrators march after the lower house of the French parliament passed legislation making it a crime to deny genocide, a move specifically intended to bolster support among the large Armenian diaspora in France, on Istiklal Street in the Beyoglu neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey on December 21, 2011.

Nationalist demonstrators march up Istiklal Caddesi from Tunel in support of Ataturk's principles of a secular republic and against the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP in Turkish, on Republic Day in Istanbul, Turkey on October 29, 2012.

Nationalist demonstrators march up Istiklal Caddesi from Tunel in support of Ataturk’s principles of a secular republic and against the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP in Turkish, on Republic Day in Istanbul, Turkey on October 29, 2012.

Street cars and couples converge on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey on November 8, 2012.

Street cars and couples converge on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey on November 8, 2012.

Women are seen wearing bright red coats on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey on December 5, 2012.

Women are seen wearing bright red coats on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey on December 5, 2012.

People gather for Iftar dinner on newspapers on Istiklal Street in a show of solidarity with the demonstrators that had previously occupied Gezi Park at the start of Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey on July 9, 2013.  Since demonstrators occupied Gezi Park for two and a half weeks last month, police have maintained a heavy presence in Taksim Square and periodic clashes have erupted as demonstrators have returned to the square in protest of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

People gather for Iftar dinner on newspapers on Istiklal Street in a show of solidarity with the demonstrators that had previously occupied Gezi Park at the start of Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey on July 9, 2013. Since demonstrators occupied Gezi Park for two and a half weeks last month, police have maintained a heavy presence in Taksim Square and periodic clashes have erupted as demonstrators have returned to the square in protest of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Donald Trump, Jerry Springer + American Youth

Supporters of Republican Presidential front runner Donald Trump react to protesters during his speech at the Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington, Illinois on March 13, 2016.  Protests have become a regular feature of Donald Trump rallies, contributing in their way to the spectacle and circus-like environment.

Supporters of Republican Presidential front runner Donald Trump react to protesters during his speech at the Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington, Illinois on March 13, 2016. Protests have become a regular feature of Donald Trump rallies, contributing in their way to the spectacle and circus-like environment.

This image from Donald Trump’s rally in Bloomington, Illinois last Sunday was the moment my headache went through the roof and I left. Little boys film themselves taunting little girls who were being kicked out for protesting. This is a scary thing to witness when children turn against each other on the encouragement of an American presidential candidate. Today after successes in Florida, Illinois and Missouri but defeat in the critical state of Ohio to Governor John Kasich leaving open the prospect of a brokered convention, Trump threatened riots if he does not get the nomination. This is not maturity worthy of nuclear codes nor is promoting violence domestically presidential. The forces of politically motivated violence are being set in motion by a candidate whose campaign does not require him to leave the tarmac or answer questions from media beyond the scope of prearranged interviews. His rallies resemble “The Jerry Springer Show,” causing Springer himself to remark, “If they are going to do my show, they should start paying me… It’s disgraceful.”

International Women’s Day: Free Khadija Ismayilova!

Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and presenter on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azeri-language internet-only station Azadliq Radiosu, is seen during a live broadcast at Azadliq Radiosu's studio in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 31, 2011.  In March 2012, Ismayilova received a black mail threat containing still images of her engaged in sexual intercourse on March 8, international women's day, if she did not cease her investigative reporting activities; one week later, a video on a dummy site made to look like that of the opposition party Musavat published a sex tape of her online while at the same time newspapers aligned with the government and the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, YAP by its Azerbaijani initials, ran editorials defaming her as a loose and sexually unhinged woman.

Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and presenter on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azeri-language internet-only station Azadliq Radiosu, is seen during a live broadcast at Azadliq Radiosu’s studio in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 31, 2011. In March 2012, Ismayilova received a black mail threat containing still images of her engaged in sexual intercourse on March 8, international women’s day, if she did not cease her investigative reporting activities; one week later, a video on a dummy site made to look like that of the opposition party Musavat published a sex tape of her online while at the same time newspapers aligned with the government and the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, YAP by its Azerbaijani initials, ran editorials defaming her as a loose and sexually unhinged woman.

Happy International Women’s Day! Time to remember an important one, Khadija Ismayilova, in jail, for being damn good at her job as an investigative reporter and raising mighty quantities of hell while investigating Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and family’s shady business dealings. Turns out they are looting their country! I had the privilege to work with Khadija, be challenged by Khadija, and occasionally even bullied and reminded of moral courage and moral cowardice by Khadija. She is pure quality and intellect and she is serving a 7.5 year sentence for incitement to suicide by a boyfriend who has since recanted and was at the center of an effort at sexual blackmail against Khadija that occurred four years ago to this day with the arrival of a mysterious envelope postmarked Moscow and delivering contents reflecting pure KGB tactics. She went public, just a few months before Eurovision, so they retaliated by releasing a video on a mirror site made to look like one of the opposition parties, Musavat, who would of course have no interest in such a smear. Then the state news organs and papers of the Yeni, or New, Azerbaijan Party (YAP) official organs began publishing stories about how she was a loose women. Please no illusions about the ruling Aliyev clan and “modern” Azerbaijan. Khadija is a woman of courage, conviction, intelligence and she should be free! She inspires me!

Story of Khadija’s I was lucky enough to photograph:
Baku is Bulldozing Its Past,” EurasiaNet (April 27, 2012).