[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a move unprecedented by any other city in the nation, Chicago is now the first city to award victims of police violence reparations for their suffering.
Chicago City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to award $5.5 million to the victims of infamous former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 and while he was never prosecuted for acts of torture, in 2010 he was tried and convicted for lying under oath about torture.
Burge was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and spent over than three years behind bars before being allow to finish the final months of his sentence in a Florida halfway house. Many of the victims were African-American males from the South Side of Chicago.
The ordinance passed at the May 6 City Council meeting, and states that victims of Burge or officers under his command are eligible for up to $100,000.
Ald. Joe Moreno, one of the sponsors of the ordinance, spoke at the council meeting about the importance of the bill, calling it a historic moment for the city.
“I want to thank you, Mr. Mayor, for moving forward this terrible chapter in Chicago, when those before you didn’t even want to acknowledge it,” he said.
Moreno listed the names of the tortured victims and family members present at the council meeting, receiving applause as they watched. “Unfortunately, we will not ever close the Burge chapter, but we’ve come a long way,” said the alderman. Mayor Rahm Emanuel added, “This is another step, but an essential step in righting a wrong—removing a stain on this great city and the people who make up this great city.”
“This stain cannot be removed from our history of our city,” he said. “But it can be used as a lesson of what not to do, and the responsibility all of us have.”
The ordinance wasn’t just historic to the alderman and the mayor. “I think it’s a remarkable precedent. This is the first time a municipality has ever provided reparations for law enforcement violence. It’s particularly significant in light of the fact this was racially motivated law enforcement violence,” said Joey Mogul, director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the Depaul College of Law.
Mogul co-founded Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project, and was one of the main advocates for passing the ordinance. She also drafted the original submitted ordinance and has defended Burge torture victims for 18 years at the People’s Law Office.
Acknowledgement and financial compensation are a step in the right direction, but just a part of the puzzle that fits into the solution for racially motivated police violence. It is important that survivors and their families also be provided psychological counseling and free enrollment to city colleges, Mogul explained.
“They’re important steps of healing that need to take place.”
Ultimately, Mogul said, this provides a solution that looks beyond prosecution and policy changes and addresses. “Law enforcement violence runs deep in terms of its harm. It doesn’t just affect individuals who were injured. It impacts families as well as their communities.”
By acknowledging past violence, Mogul said, the city of Chicago is moving in the right direction. “In doing so, that’s far beyond any civil lawsuit or any verdict in any give criminal prosecution. It’s a public acknowledgement and taking responsibility. And that’s one step towards making amends.”