After a decades-long fight to bring to light the torture of black men by Chicago police, the city on Monday began to disburse $5.5 million in reparations.
About $100,000 will go to each of 57 victims whose claims have been vetted by a local law professor, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a group that has been fighting for recognition of 111 known victims, and also the city's legal department. The families of two other men who have since died will also receive non-financial reparations.
Victims said the torture was overseen by Jon Burge, a former military police investigator who served in Vietnam before joining the Chicago Police Department as a detective in 1972. He was assigned to the city's South Side, and over the following three decades, black men said they were beaten, suffocated, electrically shocked, or had loaded guns pressed to their heads until they confessed to crimes.
"Jon Burge's actions are a disgrace to Chicago and to the hard-working men and women of the police department, but most importantly to those he was sworn to protect," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement on Monday. "We stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago's history to a close."
The payments come two months after video of a Chicago police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald sparked new questions of corruption within the city. Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in the death of the teen a year after the shooting, and not until the video was made public via a judge's order.
Burge was fired in 1993 after the city's Office of Professional Standards agreed his tactics amounted to systematic and methodical abuse. He was later convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in connection to lying about his actions.
The widespread use of coerced confessions irreparably damaged the justice system, Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow said at Burge's sentencing hearing in 2011.
"How can one trust that justice will be served when the justice system has been so defiled?," Humphrey Lefkow asked.
In the wake of Burge's firing, death sentences for some victims were commuted. Others were pardoned after being found not guilty of the crimes they had confessed to.
The reparation payments come in addition to about $100 million in other settlements that have already been ordered by courts over the years, the Associated Press reported.
In approving the reparations package, the city also formally apologized to victims and agreed to include lessons about the Burge era in public school curriculum. Tuition to city colleges and job training, as well as counseling services, has also been made available to victims and their families.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, torture victim Darrell Cannon said it should not be forgotten that Burge's actions took place for years after being reported to authorities.
"Reparations is only the first step to healing the city," Cannon said. "We still have a long way to go. . . . No one should forget that Burge torture took place with the knowledge and complicity of Mayor [Richard M.] Daley and States Attorney [Richard] Devine."
Claudia Koerner is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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