The Seven Million Dollar Whitewash

After a four-year, $7 million investigation, special prosecutors have releas-ed their findings into police torture in Chicago, and the results are familiar. Once again, former Commander Jon Burge and the white police officers under him—who, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, “for two decades coerced dozens of confessions with fists, kicks, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, bags over the head and electric shock to the genitals”—are walking away scot-free for their crimes.

Once again, prosecutors who made their careers by locking away the victims will not be disciplined. And as they have over and over in court rulings, victims of torture have been met with skepticism, and their credibility called into question.

Special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle found evidence of abuse in as many as 75 of the 148 cases they investigated. Of Burge’s underlings, the report casually confirms their involvement, saying, “It necessarily follows that a number of those serving under his command recognized that, if their commander could abuse persons with impunity, so could they.”

The report singles out three cases—those of Andrew Wilson, Philip Adkins and Alfonso Pinex—in which the special prosecutors can “establish guilt [of police officers] beyond a reasonable doubt.” But despite this, Egan and Boyle conclude that it is too late to punish any officers because the statute of limitations has long since expired.

And while the special prosecutors admit that “all police officers refused to talk to us,” they conclude that this does not constitute a cover-up.

Where the special prosecutors at least assign blame to Jon Burge and the officers under him, they let current Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was Cook County state’s attorney throughout the 1980s when much of the torture took place, and Richard Devine, the current state’s attorney and former top assistant to Daley, completely off the hook.

At the press conference announcing their findings, the harshest language Boyle could find to describe the failure of the state’s attorney’s office to investigate the torture was that there was “a bit of slippage.”

Yet Daley was sent a letter from the police superintendent asking how to proceed with information coerced from Andrew Wilson, who had been tortured and abused by Burge and other officers. The note included a letter from Dr. Raba, who had treated Wilson in the hospital for injuries that included burns from being pressed against a radiator.

Daley’s feeble response was that he probably got the letter, but he can’t remember it.

Perhaps the most outrageous sections of the report, however, are the 78 pages dedicated to the cases of Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange and Stanley Howard, four men who were tortured and spent years on death row before they were pardoned on the basis of innocence by former Gov. George Ryan in 2003.

Egan and Boyle imply that the four men may not, in fact, be innocent and may not have been tortured. The result is to make it more difficult for the four men to collect millions of dollars in civil suits against Burge and the City of Chicago.

No doubt the special prosecutors hoped that by releasing another toothless admission that torture occurred, the public would be satisfied.

But they were mistaken. Several mainstream news articles have called Daley’s role into question. Daley has been forced, for the first time ever, to comment on the torture that took place, simultaneously claiming that he would “take responsibility” and “apologize to anyone” while denying that he knew anything about the torture.

Activists and attorneys working to win justice for torture victims have seized on the change in the political climate and are pushing forward with their demands.

Flint Taylor, an attorney for the People’s Law Office, for example, has been in the news often, questioning the integrity of the special prosecutors’ investigation—particularly, as he calls it, their “16-inch softball questions” to Daley—and pushing for federal indictments of torturers under Jon Burge.

Meetings sponsored by a new group, Black People Against Police Torture, led to a march of 150 people on September 15 in downtown Chicago. And activists with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, along with family members of torture victims, have been stepping up demands to win new trials for torture victims, organizing a protest that drew almost 70 people on just three days’ notice after the release of the report.

Some 100 people also gathered for a “people’s tribunal” that symbolically put Daley, Burge and Devine on trial while demanding the victims receive the justice they deserve.

Due to the scrutiny around the Burge torture scandal, for the first time politicians have begun to seize on the issue. Three aldermen have introduced a resolution to strip Burge of his pension and legal fees. Mayoral candidates are also using the issue to score political points in their election campaigns against Daley. Dorothy Brown, for example, delivered a letter to US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald demanding a federal investigation into the torture allegations. Meanwhile, Bill “Doc” Walls has appeared at protest rallies against the torture and has pointed to the torture scandal as an example of Daley’s corruption.

While some of the initial flurry of activity following the release of the special prosecutor’s report has died down, those involved in the move-ment know they have a long fight ahead of them. City Council hearings around the resolution stripping Burge’s pension and legal fees have been postponed twice so far, but they provide an opportunity to keep the issue in the public eye. Activists in Chicago are prepared to pack the hearings and have put forward the demand that the City of Chicago “finance justice, not torture,” It is critical for activists to continue to put public pressure on officials who are knee-deep in the torture scandal. This kind of public pressure can win real justice for torture victims and their long-suffering families.

An earlier version of this text was originally published in the newsletter of the Campaign to End the Death Peanlty, The New Abolitionist, September 2006; Issue 40. http://www.nodeath penalty.org/content/new_abRlitionist

Research & action links For a copy of the special prosecutor’s report, contact Nora Ferrell of MacArthur Justice Center at (312) 408-2580 ext. 24. —Campaign to End the Death Penalty (773) 955-4841 | email julien@nodeathpenalty.org —Black People Against Police Torture contact Atty. Standish Willis, (312)554-0005.