The Blog

Jon Burge, The Olympics and Torture in Chicago

In a quixotic quest for justice, a civil rights group is out to expose America's third-largest city as, according to an attorney, "the torture capital of the world."
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Richard M. Daley, Chicago's Mayor-for-Life, was duty bound to be in Beijing for the opening ceremony to the Summer Olympics: He had some elbow rubbing and glad-handing to do.

Chicago is an international finalist to be the host city for the 2016 Olympics so the face time and a check on Beijing's newly-minted public transit system, before being awed by China's spectacular coming out party, was a must for the Second City's mayor. The word is that Chicago may own the inside track with the International Olympic Committee's 115 voting members against the three other competing cities--Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.

That may not continue to be the case, especially if the Black People Against Police Torture gets its way. In a quixotic quest for justice, the civil rights group is out to expose America's third-largest city as, charges Atty. Standish Willis, "the torture capital of the world."

Since the last millennium, Willis and other Chicago civil rights attorneys and activists have been seeking to get a now-retired police commander, Jon Graham Burge, held responsible for hideous crimes he committed, that have been hidden behind a gray-flannel and blue wall of silence.
Cmdr. Burge and his midnight crew at the city's Area 2 police station tortured more than 137 African American men over a two-decade span. In many cases, Burge and his medieval sect of detectives tortured the old-fashioned way, using nightsticks, flashlights, black jacks and telephone books. At other times they went above and beyond the call of cruelty by hand cranking a telephone box that generated an electrical current, then putting it to the genitals and rectums of the black suspects they were interrogating. Other cruel and unusual practices by Burge's "A Team" included cattle prods to the bodies and plastic bags placed over the heads.

Chicago's torture cop is old news that Willis and his group are attempting to make current again. Accusations that Lt. Burge and officers under him were torturing prisoners into confessions have been an open secret for nearly three decades throughout much of the city and county's criminal justice system. The rumors ran rampant in the early 1980s when Mayor Daley was the Cook County state's attorney.

Two years ago, the Report of the Special State's Attorney was released, dashing any doubts that the rumors were unmerited. Special Prosecutor Edward Egan, who led the four-year, $6.2 million investigation, found that in the '70s and '80s former Cmdr. Burge and his men tortured suspects into making confessions.

Fired fifteen years ago, Burge is livin la vida loca in Florida, still drawing his pension of $3,403.71 a month. In the meantime, 24 black men who were set up by Burge and his subordinates are still doing hard time. The report also claimed that the statute of limitations has expired, making it too late to file charges against the bad cops.

Willis and the other civil rights attorneys have argued that since there was an ongoing cover-up on the Burge tortures, both in the Chicago police department and in the Cook County Court system during and for years afterwards, that the statutes of limitations don't apply. Willis, the Chicago chairman of the National Council of Black Lawyers, has also presented his case on police torture in the U.S. before the U.N.'s Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Conference in Geneva, Switzerland earlier this year.

Shortly after the Egan report, Willis and Patricia Hill, president of the African American Police League, founded the Black People Against Police Torture they contacted the OIC, attempting to get it to disqualify Chicago as a host city. Nearly two years later, Willis and his group are still awaiting an answer.

So this Thursday night Black People Against Police Torture will meet again to review its efforts to hold the Summer Olympics hostage until the unjustly convicted men are given a retrial and the torturers are put on trial.

Considering the OIC's indifference to Beijing's support of the genocidal Darfur government and its human rights violations in Tibet and at home, my guess is that Willis and his group have a Chinaman's chance of appealing to its 115 members' sense of social justice and civil rights.