Chicago Police Torture Survivors
On display at the Harold Washington Library, Third Floor Gallery through 2019.
Free audio guide / virtual tour available on:
In the late 1980s, Chicago lawyer Flint Taylor began to receive anonymous letters in Chicago Police Department envelopes detailing the allegations of police torture under former Commander Jon Burge and naming some of the officers involved. The anonymous source, who has never been identified, became known as “Deep Badge” after Watergate’s “Deep Throat”.
A decade and a half-long investigative series of stories by The Chicago Reader’s John Conroy began in 1990, unraveling the story for public consumption. Using Conroy’s first article as a starting point, the police oversight Office of Professional Standards began the first municipal investigation in 1990. That investigation concluded that electric shock had been deployed, that the torture had been systematic, and that command personnel had been aware of it. The OPS reports led to Burge’s firing in 1993.
Due to the failure of judges and prosecutors to recognize that confessions had been coerced, the Illinois legislature established the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in 2009. The Commission investigates allegations of police torture submitted by those convicted of crimes and offers one more chance at judicial review. The process is not perfect and the number of claims has created a backlog.
In 2015, after years of successful activism by community groups including most prominently Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, the Chicago City Council passed a reparations ordinance for Chicago police torture survivors who were violated by officers working under Jon Burge, the first of its kind in the nation, that set up a $5.5 million fund that ultimately paid reparations to 57 men. Also included in the ordinance were free counseling, free tuition at city colleges for the survivors and their families, and plans to teach about Chicago police torture in Chicago Public Schools in the eighth and tenth grades, among other things. Unfortunately, several of the men remain incarcerated based on charges brought after interrogation by Burge and his “midnight crew” or related cases.
Jon Burge was convicted of perjury in 2010 and was imprisoned from 2011 until 2014. No other police officer has been prosecuted for the torture carried out by detectives at Area 2 and Area 3, where Burge transferred in 1988.
Burge died at the age of 70 from cancer on September 19, 2018.
To hear from survivors, in their words, please download the app “Burge Victims Speak” and kindly listen with headphones. Sensitive audiences should be advised the audio guide includes graphic descriptions of intimate acts of torture that may be especially disturbing for some.