Over a period of 20 years in the 1970's and 80's, Chicago police chief Jon Burge led a gang of police in systematically torturing black suspects to force them to confess. He used beatings, burns, mock-executions, asphyxiation and electrocution - the sort of tactics you'd expect in a third-world police state, not in a democracy like the US. Today, the city of Chicago agreed to compensate his victims:
Chicago approved an unprecedented deal on Wednesday to compensate victims tortured in police custody in the 1970s and 80s under the regime of a notorious former police commander, in an attempt to close a dark chapter in the city’s history.
A historic package of reparations will be paid out to living survivors, in the first gesture of its kind in America.
Chicago city council voted to award a total of $5.5m to help survivors, almost all African American men, who were mistreated in a long episode of police brutality that ran throughout the 70s and 80s under Jon Burge.
The funds will be used to pay up to $100,000 per individual for living survivors with valid claims to have been tortured in police custody during Burge’s command.
The package also provides for a public memorial and access to services including counselling and free tuition in city colleges for both survivors and their immediate families.
It was passed unanimously by the city council on Wednesday.
But while this is a good gesture, its not justice. Burge has never been tried for his crimes, and they've never been formally recognised as such by a court. Instead, he's gotten away with it completely, and still draws a police pension. Meanwhile, Chicago has not reformed its police, and just this year they were discovered running their own "black site" (complete with allegations of torture). Which tells us that compensation isn't enough - unless there is oversight and prosecutions, nothing changes.