I was quoted briefly late last week in a Deutsche Welle article, “A rare win for accountability advocates in Chicago,” in connection with my efforts to document the stories and faces of the torture victims of Area 2 and Area 3 from 1973-1991 under former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge:
For the first time in 35 years, a Chicago officer faces a first-degree murder charge for an on-duty fatality. The period includes scores of police killings and 20 dismissed complaints alleging bias, violence and illegal searches by Van Dyke. It also includes many of the years in which Chicago police ran a torture regime in which more than 200 men, the vast majority of them black, were shocked, beaten and subjected to mock executions. In May, the city council agreed to pay out $5.5 million to survivors of the program, many of whom spent years in prison after confessing under duress to crimes they had not committed. The city also continues to pay Commander Jon Burge, who ran the program, a $3,000 monthly pension.
“His legacy continues to tarnish the city and the lives of an estimated over 100 men who may still be in jail on convictions based on false confessions given under conditions that meet modern thresholds of what is considered to be torture,” photojournalist Amanda Rivkin said. A Chicago native who is working on a long-term project documenting victims of the torture program, Rivkin said that, beyond the reparations to victims, too few resources have gone toward seeking real justice, in part because the city cannot find the money to cover it. “The activists have won major battles,” she said. “There is some hope, but the success of these efforts require funding, which is lacking as the state and city are broke – yet Jon Burge continues to receive $3,000 per month.”
It is long slow work fighting for police accountability in Chicago. Yet, as another turbulent year comes to a close in the city, activists keep right on working to get the department to admit to its wrongs. As Rivkin said, their resolution has seen results. Perhaps for 2016, the city administration could resolve to join them in their efforts.