Songs for Burge torture victims fill City Hall

By Kate Morrissey

Voices echoed off the stone walls of the second floor of City Hall Thursday morning as both song and protest supported Chicago Police torture victim reparations.

Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, with support from Project NIA and Amnesty International, organized the sing-in on January 15, Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birthday, during the Committee on Finance meeting. About 40 demonstrators called for a hearing on an ordinance first introduced to City Council in 2013. The ordinance would give financial reparations to victims of police torture under the command of Jon Burge, who worked out of a far South Side police district, and provide psychological counseling, health care and education for victims and their families.

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“We’re singing for justice,” said Joey Mogul, cofounder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials. “The time has come for us and the city to make amends and seek, to the extent that we can, to repair the harm.”

Ugochi Nwaogwugwu sings “Ella’s Song.”
Ugochi Nwaogwugwu sings “Ella’s Song,” originally composed by Bernice Johnson Reagon. (Kate Morrissey/Medill)

Songs ranged from popular hits to punk to venerable freedom songs. The variety reflected the diversity of the demonstrators. Among them were several survivors of police torture.

“This reparation will give me some type of normalcy in my life,” said Mark Clements, who was tortured under Burge’s command and addressed the group.

Mark Clements addresses the sing-in.
Mark Clements explains how the reparations ordinance would help victims like him recover in many aspects of life. Clements is a survivor of police torture during Burge’s command. (Kate Morrissey/Medill)

Mogul said 27 aldermen, just over half of the council, have shown support for the ordinance. To move forward, the ordinance needs to go through a hearing with the finance committee.

Both Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), who introduced the ordinance, are members of the finance committee, but according to Mogul, Alderman Edward Burke (14th), the chairman for the committee, determines what hearings the committee holds. She said Burke has not shown support for the ordinance.

“That’s why we’re calling on Rahm Emanuel to fully support the ordinance and call for a hearing in the finance committee,” Mogul said.

Activists at the sing-in at City Hall
Joey Mogul (right) joins torture survivor Darrell Cannon (center) to sing “We Shall Overcome,” one of the final songs of the event. (Kate Morrissey/Medill)

“We need more than just empty talk,” Mogul said later.

“Delay with city government on the Burge issue is the norm,” said Andrew Baer, a history graduate student writing his dissertation on Burge and Chicago Police torture.

Andrew Baer receives his sign for the demonstration.
Graduate student Andrew Baer is writing his dissertation on Chicago Police torture under Burge. He said he has participated in several demonstrations in support of the reparations ordinance. (Kate Morrissey/Medill)

But Baer has hope for progress. “It was activism that got Burge fired in 1993, and it was activism that led to Burge’s indictment and conviction,” he said.

Neither the aldermen involved nor the mayor were available for comment.

Martha Biondi, of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, said the next demonstration is planned for early February.