In 2004, a federal judge in Chicago dismissed a lawsuit brought by descendants of slaves against corporations they accused of profiting from slavery, ruling the plaintiffs did not establish a direct link to the companies targeted.
A reparations verdict had a different outcome last week in the Windy City—though slavery wasn’t the issue—for victims of police torture during Joe Burge’s tenure as police commander. They will receive an apology and access to a $5.5 million fund as part of a reparations package. The measure was proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several aldermen.
“Today, we stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs,” Emanuel told the press last Tuesday, “and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close.” The package was introduced to the City Council last Wednesday.
One torture victim, Darrell Cannon, who spent 24 years in prison and was released when the evidence used to convict him was found to be tainted, applauded the proposal. Cannon told the press that “for those of us who have been fighting and struggling to set a landmark, this is a landmark. This is the moment. What we do here will not be undone. People across the country will talk about Chicago.”
Indeed, they have, including a recent editorial in The New York Times that praised the decision and elaborated on a related incident, citing the $5 million in reparations to the family of Laquan McDonald, an African-American teenager who was killed after being shot 16 times by a police officer in October. The council’s decision to pay was done before the lawsuit was filed, but the case is still under federal investigation.
During Burge’s decade-long reign of terror from 1970 to 1980, citizens were arrested, tortured and forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. In Cannon’s case, a loaded shotgun was placed in his mouth before he confessed. Approximately 100 have accused the Chicago Police Department of abuse, and thus far the city has paid approximately $100 million in settlements to Burge victims.
According to the Times editorial, the reparations plan will provide substance abuse treatment, “counseling and other services to Burge victims and their immediate family members, as well as free tuition at city colleges.” An apology to the victims and a permanent memorial are also planned.
Burge was fired from the department in 1993, although he was never charged with any crime for torturing those in custody. In 2010, however, he was convicted for lying about torture in a civil case and spent four and a half years in federal custody. He was released from a Florida halfway house in February.