By Bethel Habte
The Chicago City Council Finance Committee announced Monday that it will hold a hearing April 14 on the Reparations Ordinance for Chicago Police Torture Survivors.
The hearing marks a step forward for activists supporting the measure, which would provide $20 million in reparations and services for torture victims and their families who were subjected to physical and psychological abuse during former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge’s 19-year tenure. The ordinance had stalled in the Finance Committee since Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins filed it in October 2013.
Activist groups including Amnesty International, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and Project NIA have rallied political pressure around the issue. Approximately 50 activists attended the Finance Committee meeting on Monday to continue the push.
“We have marched, we have demonstrated, we have sang-in,” said Joey Mogul, co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials to supporters after the meeting. “We are pleased and gratified that we are finally getting this hearing and we are grateful to all of you in joining us for that call.”
The hearing is scheduled after the run-off elections on April 7. Cook County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Jesus (Chuy) Garcia and 29 aldermen support the ordinance. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has publicly apologized for the torture, but has not voiced support for the ordinance specifically.
Lauren Taylor of We Charge Genocide said the hearing will allow the ordinance to receive the attention it deserves.
“We want to make sure that both the mayor and the chair of the Finance Committee don’t prevent it from getting a fair shot,” she said.
Committee Chairman Edward Burke didn’t include the ordinance on Monday’s agenda, but did announce the hearing at the end of the meeting. His office was unavailable for further comment.
Mogul said the hearing will open the subject to greater scrutiny and open the ordinance to wider political support across Chicago.
“It will be our opportunity to present the torture survivors and our evidence that demonstrates why this ordinance is necessary, why we need it to begin the healing for the torture survivors, their family members and the African American communities devastated by this torture,” Mogul said.
Burge was the Chicago Police Commander on Chicago’s South and West Sides from 1972 to 1991. In 2010, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for lying about torture under his command. The statute of limitations expired for a direct conviction, which witnesses in the case said included extracting confessions from victims using electric shock, suffocation, mock executions, and other forms of abuse.
The ordinance requires the city to:
- Form a Chicago Police Torture Reparations Commission to determine reparations to torture survivors
- Create a center on the South Side to provide mental health services and vocational training to torture survivors, families, and others affected by police abuse
- Allow survivors and their family members to attend City Colleges for free
- Incorporate the history of torture into the Chicago Public School system curriculum
- Provide evidentiary hearings for prisoners whose coerced confessions led to their convictions
- Create public memorials to memorialize the cases
- Appropriate $20 million to finance these initiatives, the same amount the city spent to defend Burge, detectives and former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the cases.