Chicago Torture: Freedom for Jon Burge Can’t Be the Last Chapter

Torture victim Aaron Patterson was always maintained that he was suffocated with a plastic bag until he confessed to a crime he did not commit. Days after his confession, this message was found scraped into a metal bench at the police station where he had been questioned.
Torture victim Aaron Patterson has always maintained that he was suffocated with a plastic bag until he confessed to a crime he did not commit. Days after his confession, this message was found scraped into a metal bench at the police station where he had been questioned.

Freedom came early today for former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. It was expected that Burge would begin his parole tomorrow, on Valentine’s Day, but it appears the system would rather not attend to such matters on a Saturday. So, rather than make Burge wait it out through a long weekend, the system cut this confirmed torturer yet another break, and gave him a head start on his new life.

And so it goes.

As an abolitionist, I do not expect justice from carceral solutions. But like anyone who values black and brown lives, I am always pained by the disparities that manifest themselves within this system, not because indictments or prison sentences heal societal wounds, but because the disproportionate administration of carceral penalties is a constant reminder that, under this system, some lives matter, while others are deemed utterly disposable.

The reparations ordinance that would provide relief to Jon Burge’s victims has not been passed, and yet his new life has begun. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that Burge’s victims and their families are feeling tonight, knowing that 23 years after Burge’s reign of terror came to an end, and less than four years after he received any punishment for his crimes, this city still hasn’t seen fit to afford them any measure of justice. Burge will apparently live out his days in sunny Florida, and collect a city pension, while his victims haven’t been afforded any of the compensation or comfort that their own recovery would necessitate.

Victims tortured by Burge and his “midnight crew” were electrocuted, suffocated, beaten, humiliated, and psychologically terrorized, and yet this city has made no significant effort to make them whole again. Our mayor, who publicly agrees that something should be done for these victims, would prefer to table the matter for further consideration. That consideration has lasted decades. Meanwhile, Burge wasn’t even forced to sit through a long weekend to wait out his time in a halfway house.

(File that contrast away for later use, the next time someone tells you that we don’t live in a racist system.)

One of the reasons I have played an active role in supporting this ordinance is that it is not simply about monetary compensation. I would support any effort to secure financial compensation for Burge’s victims, but I have actively thrown myself into this effort because we are talking about much more than that. We are talking about embedding the truth of what happened into our public schools, memorializing the harm done, and giving Burge’s victims some of the tools they need to heal and move on.

According to Joey Mogul, an attorney at The People’s Law Office who has worked on behalf of the torture survivors for years, “The fact that the ordinance calls for the creation of a community center on the South Side of Chicago alone is valuable, particularly in light of the closing of the mental health clinics here in Chicago. The fact that the ordinance provides for psychological services, education, vocational training to all of those directly affected in an attempt to help them all heal and develop sustainable coping strategies is valuable to several communities.”

Scratched into a metal bench by torture victim Aaron Patterson: "Aaron 4/30 I lie about murders / Police threaten me with violence / Slapped and suffocated me with plastic."
Scratched into a metal bench by torture victim Aaron Patterson: “Aaron 4/30 I lie about murders / Police threaten me with violence / Slapped and suffocated me with plastic.”

This day passing without justice for Burge’s victims is heartbreaking, but the story isn’t over. Chicagoans still have the power to write another chapter. Tomorrow, community members will rally at The Chicago Temple to demand passage of the reparations ordinance. We will hold a People’s Hearing to represent the hearing that this ordinance has been denied, in spite of having the support of the majority of the City Council. Afterward, we will collectively create imagery to launch on social media to further this message.

Truth and justice are decades behind schedule, but they are still within reach. These victims are closer than they’ve ever been to getting some measure of justice, but righting this wrong will require us all to stand up. Your hands, your hearts, and your voices are needed. Justice needs you. Help us lift up the names of these victims, the truth of their struggle, and demand the future be written differently than the past.

We must hold this system accountable, heal our wounded, and build a future where harms such as these become more and more unthinkable with each passing year. We can do that, but to see it through, we’ll need each other.

It starts here.

It starts now.

Let’s make sure tomorrow isn’t the same as yesterday.

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