Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his authority engaged in acts of torture, physical abuse and coercion of black men and women from 1972 through 1991. Under Burge’s command, African Americans were electrically shocked on their genitals, lips and ears, suffocated with plastic bags and subjected to mock executions with guns. All in the name of forcing them into false confessions.
I had the privilege of interviewing Mark Clements, one of Burge’s torture victims. At just the tender age of 16, he was tortured and beaten into confessing to a crime that he did not commit. The officers called him racial epithets, beat him with telephones, squeezed his genitals and told him that he would never see his family or freedom again if he didn’t confess. So in 1981, after 30 minutes of torture, Clements signed a written confession to an arson that occurred on 6600 S. Wentworth six days prior. Four people were killed, and Clements would get four consecutive life sentences.
Clements could barely read and just having a 7th grade education, he was the perfect target for Burge’s system. His signature earned him the title of Illinois’ youngest inmate to receive a life sentence without parole. By his own admission, Clements was living a life that would land him in jail. But he did not deserve such treatment. In 2010, Burge was found guilty and convicted on three counts of obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about the torture in a civil lawsuit. Clements and dozens of other inmates unjustifiably serving time for crimes they didn’t commit were finally free.
Clements is now an activist in Chicago, working to change the system and stand up for justice for those unfairly incarcerated. He is a key member of the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression and the No Death Penalty Organization. While it may have taken decades to convict Jon Burge of his crimes, the path to rightful justice has been paved. But more work needs to be done, which brings me to why I’m writing about this subject.
A new petition of Change.org is calling for reparations for the victims tortured by Jon Burge and his men. It states:
“Scores of Chicago Police Torture survivors continue to suffer from the psychological effects of the torture they endured without any compensation or assistance; most have no legal recourse for any redress. They cannot sue for any financial compensation because the statute of limitations has expired on their claims of torture. Their family members also continue to bear the wounds of decades lost away from their loved ones.
Mayor Emanuel recently apologized and acknowledged that the torture in the Burge era was a dark chapter in the history of Chicago, and expressed his desire to move on. The City cannot move on until it formally acknowledges and apologizes for its role in the police torture and provides the survivors and their family members redress for the suffering they endured.”
This petition for reparations is about more than money. It’s about justice. The lives of those unfairly convicted and sentenced to decades of prison time for no reason other than being black depends on it.