Highlights of the struggle

Chicago

By: Julien Ball

Efforts to win justice for Chicago police torture victims appear to be picking up steam. In June, news reports confirmed that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed five to ten detectives under former Commander Jon Burge to testify in front of a grand jury about their knowledge of police torture in Chicago. Attorneys and activists have documented well over 100 instances of electro-shock, suffocation and/or beatings to elicit confessions from African-American men in the 1970s through the early 1990s. Federal prosecutors could indict Burge for perjury; in other words, for lying about the torture.

The Chicago CEDP has continued its campaign to win relief for the dozens of men who remain behind bars based on confessions that were tortured out of them. On May 14 and again on July 18, we organized rallies in front of Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office in downtown Chicago. Madigan, who was appointed as lead prosecutor on the Burge cases in 2002, has the power to initiate evidentiary hearings so that torture victims can present evidence of torture in court, but she has failed to take action.

Both times, a delegation of family members and activists delivered a letter calling on Madigan to meet with us and to work for new trials. We submitted pictures of all of the torture victims, which had been hung on a clothesline for visual effect during the rally, to remind her that Madigan's inaction was affecting the lives of real people.

We were able to help bring the plight of torture victims to an international stage. On May 23, Doudou Diene, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racial Discrimination, presided over a hearing in Chicago where countless people provided emotional testimony about their personal experiences with racism in Chicago. The CEDP brought several loved ones of police torture victims to testify, along with exonerated death row prisoner Darby Tillis. We worked with the organizers of the hearing to decorate the room with posters of torture victims behind bars. Upon entering the room, Mr. Diene's first impression was the faces of torture victims.

We have continued our outreach to death row prisoners, and our organizing with prisoners' family members. In June, a group of CEDP activists and family members visited death row in Pontiac, IL. On May 18, the Family and Friends' Network, a project of the CEDP, conducted a panel discussion at Fourth Presbyterian Church with activists, family members and former prisoners.

The CEDP was one of several sponsors of an August 6 forum called "Throwing Away the Key" that connected the issue of long-term sentencing to the warehousing of prisoners in Tamms Supermax Prison, to the general lack of opportunities for rehabilitation in Illinois prisons. The forum drew a multi-racial crowd of about 200 people.