Can These Activists Force Chicago’s Next Mayor to Take On Police Reform?

Chicago activists are asking mayoral candidates to heed their request for reparations for decades of police torture.
Mar 30, 2015·
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Electric shock and suffocation were just two of the tactics used by police in Chicago to provoke confessions—many false—from more than 100 black men between 1972 and 1991. While the overt torture under former police detective Jon Burge was brought to light by his federal conviction decades after the crimes, survivors and community activists are still fighting for reparations.

On Tuesday evening, activists will rally outside the mayoral debate between county commissioner Jesús G. “Chuy” García and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to demand that the candidates address the city’s legacy of police torture and their request for reparations. The demonstration is being organized by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a grassroots group that works to honor the police torture victims. The rally aims to highlight a reparations ordinance introduced by the group that will be heard by the city’s Finance Committee in April.

While Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2006 in federal court after denying the acts of torture under oath, the group says 20 men still languish in prison as a result of confessions gathered during Burge’s reign. These men deserve rehearings, the group says, and all of the torture survivors should receive psychological counseling and compensation for their suffering.

This weekend, spoken-word artists from education group Kuumba Lynx led a powerful performance at a poetry slam competition in the city, demanding justice for victims of police torture and drawing attention to broader police brutality suffered by communities of color in Chicago.

Last week, Chicago police made headlines again when the ACLU of Illinois released a report finding that the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk practice has outpaced that of the New York Police Department. In the summer of 2014, Chicago’s department conducted more than 250,000 stops of civilians—not one of which led to an arrest, according to the report. Nearly 72 percent of stops in Chicago in 2014 were of black people, even though only 32 percent of the city’s population is black. According to the report, people in Chicago were stopped four times as often as New Yorkers—a feat considering the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice was deemed unconstitutional and rife with racial bias by a federal judge in 2013.

The fight for police accountability doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. Last Wednesday, three demonstrators were arrested outside Mayor Emanuel’s office during a “die-in,” and a pop-up art exhibit has occupied City Hall aiming to pay tribute to Chicago citizens impacted by police torture and spark a conversation about reparations. The exhibit was organized by Project NIA, an education and advocacy group that aims to end youth incarceration that is also supporting the reparations movement. Now, it’s up to the candidates to speak up.