On the Brink of Historic Legislation: Reparations for Burge Torture Survivors

The City of Chicago is poised to enact historic legislation which will provide long overdue reparations to the Burge torture survivors and their family members.  This legislation is the culmination of years of dedicated activism, advocacy and organizing.  Thanks to the truly inspirational campaign co-led by CTJM, Amnesty International, Project NIA, We Charge Genocide with the support of actions by BYP100 and the Chicago Light Brigade, and to everyone who worked long and hard over the past six months—the Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance is on the brink of passage.

Today at a special hearing of the Finance Committee of Chicago City Council, it was announced that an agreement was reached with Mayor Emanuel and the Ordinance co-sponsors Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward), Howard Brookins (21st Ward) and Joe Moore (49th Ward) on the terms of a comprehensive reparations package for those who survived torture at the hands of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and police officers under his command.

However, the fight is not over yet—we still need alderpeople to vote in favor of this legislation in the Finance Committee in a couple of weeks and at the full City Council meeting on May 6, 2015. We ask for your help to ensure that this historic legislation is passed and swiftly implemented to bring a measure of justice to survivors of Chicago’s police torture scandal.

A Reparations Package for Burge Torture Survivors

Rooted in a restorative framework and reflecting critical provisions of the original Reparations Ordinance filed in October of 2013, the reparations package the City has agreed to includes a myriad of remedies that aim to meet the concrete needs of the Burge torture survivors and their family members. It will include:

  1. A formal apology from the Mayor and City Council for the torture and abuse committed by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and police officers under his command;
  2. A permanent public memorial acknowledging the torture committed by Burge and his men;
  3. Inclusion of a lesson in the Chicago Public Schools 8th and 10th grade U.S. History curriculum on the Burge torture cases;
  4. Provision of trauma and other counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and family members on the South Side of Chicago based on the model of services provided by the Marjorie Kovler Center and Heartland Alliance;
  5. Free tuition or job training at Chicago’s City Colleges for Burge torture survivors, their family members, including grandchildren;
  6. Job placement for Burge torture survivors in programs designated for formerly incarcerated people;
  7. Priority access to City of Chicago’s re-entry support services, including: job training and placement, counseling, food, housing & transportation assistance, senior care, health care, and small business support services;
  8. Financial compensation to the Burge torture survivors who are still with us today.

The City will set aside $5.5 million to establish a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Survivors.  Every person found to have a credible claim of torture or abuse committed by Burge or his men at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 to 1991 will receive the same exact amount from the fund.

It is important to note that the passage of this legislation does not foreclose a Burge torture survivor who is later exonerated from suing the City at a later date.  But if they choose that course of action, they cannot take part in the financial reparations offered here.  Like many class action lawsuits, people can choose to opt-in or opt-out from filing for and receiving these reparations.

This package is not perfect. The financial compensation is not the amount we struggled for. But it does bring us closer to our goal of each claimant receiving $100,000. To quote torture survivor Darrell Cannon: “This isn’t the world.  It’s just a small piece of the world … but we are in the world!” Additionally, the counseling services will not initially be offered to all people who have been tortured by law enforcement officials.  We have always recognized that law enforcement torture did not begin or end with Burge and there are many others in need of these services as well.  But our hope is that with private fundraising and other donations we can develop a center on the South side that can provide holistic services for others who have been affected by police violence.  As torture survivor Anthony Holmes shared, “There’s still so much work to do … Don’t let this struggle be for nothing. Keep going forward, together.”

A Strong Message

The legislation now before Chicago City Council sends a strong message that activism and organizing matter in the ongoing struggle for human rights and social justice. The City of Chicago is for the first time acknowledging its responsibility for gross human rights violations, violations recognized by the UN Committee Against Torture, and committing significant resources to begin to repair some of the harms inflicted on the torture survivors, their families and the communities from which they come.

A Historic Victory

Remarkably, this legislation marks the first time in U.S. history that a city has passed legislation providing reparations, including financial compensation, for police violence.   The City of Chicago’s recognition that people who were tortured by law enforcement officers deserve compensation and redress—regardless of any crime that they were accused of or may have committed—is an important recognition that torture is never excusable and the ends do not justify the means.  Every individual’s dignity matters.

Community Dinner to Discuss the Legislation and On Going Struggle

You’re invited to a Dinner for Reparations this evening from 6 to 8 pm at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. This will be a chance to share updates, discuss recent developments especially following the hearing, share food and build together. No cost to attend. Thank you to Project NIA and CTJM for helping provide food!

We Still Need YOUR HELP to Make This Historic Victory a Reality!

This fight is not over.  We still need you to call your Alderperson to urge them to vote in favor of the Chicago Reparations Ordinance at the next Finance Committee meeting.

You can find their names and numbers here.

Once the legislation passes out of the Finance Committee, we need you to call your alderpeople once again to urge them to vote to pass the Reparations Ordinance on May 6 at the full City Council meeting. You can find your alderperson here.

We will post other action items here.

Come out and be part of achieving a measure of justice and making history on May 6th! Join us at City Council and show your support for the Burge torture survivors, family members and the Chicago Reparations Ordinance!

With Hope for Justice.

See you on May 6th!



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