Police Torture Victims Earn Historic Reparations Deal
Chicago police torture victim Darrell Cannon and We Charge Genocide organizer Lauren Taylor discuss the $5.5 million deal and why systemic changes are still needed.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Chicago is now the first city in the United States to approve a reparations plan for victims of police torture. Just so our viewers are aware, this story begins in 1972 when former Chicago police commander Jon Burge oversaw the police department’s notorious torture of criminal suspects for about two decades. But now City Council is trying to right their wrongs with a $5.5 million reparation package that will go to dozens of police victims, despite the estimated more than 100 victims.* Also, the city will be providing free counseling, community college, job training, and other services for them and their families.
Now joining us to unpack all of us are our two guests, both joining us from Chicago. Lauren Taylor is an organizer with the grassroots anti-police brutality group We Charge Genocide in Chicago, and Darrell Cannon is a survivor of Chicago police torture who spent 24 years in prison as a result of coerced confession.
Thank you both for joining me.
DARRELL CANNON, CHICAGO POLICE TORTURE VICTIM: Thank you.
LAUREN TAYLOR, ORGANIZER, WE CHARGE GENOCIDE: Thank you for having us.
DESVARIEUX: So we should note to our viewers that neither the commander Burge nor any of the detectives involved in conducting this torture ever faced criminal charges. However, Burge did spend four and a half years in prison for lying under oath about the torture. But now he’s been released and collecting a pension.
So I’m going to start off with you, Darrell. You were a victim of torture at the hands of police. Can you just tell us about your experience? And essentially, how did they even torture you?
CANNON: My hellish nightmare started November 2nd, 1983, when about 15 detectives from Area 2 invaded my apartment. They took me out to the department, and from that day to this day, the nightmare continues to haunt me continuously. [During] the day of November 2nd, 1983 they tried to hang me by my handcuffs, which were [slipped up] behind my back. They played a mock roulette on me with a shotgun. They split my upper lip, they chipped my two front teeth, forcing a shotgun barrel in my mouth. They kept me handcuffed during the entire time.
When that didn’t produce what they wanted, they then pulled my pants and shorts down while my cuffs was cuffed behind me, and they used the electric cattle prod on me, where they continuously shocked me on my genitals, and in my mouth throughout the day. They beat me with a flashlight on my left knee.
I mean, these are all despicable things that you never expect for police to do, but these sadistic son of a guns, they had been doing this for so long that it became fun to them. And by them being such racist individuals, they had fun with me. Because I was a black man – yes, ma’am.
DESVARIEUX: Despicable is sort of putting it lightly. I mean, on top of, on top of this reparations pack is, there’s been $100 million settlement that’s gone to some of these victims. Lauren, you’ve been organizing to get this reparations package passed through the city council. Why is this so historic, and why is this different from those settlements?
TAYLOR: This is different then a civil suit settlement for a number of reasons. The package, so in addition to the financial compensation, there’s a formal [inaud.] by the mayor, by the city council for the torture that happened. There’s also access to counseling services, three years of free counseling for survivors and their family members. There’s access, free tuition at city colleges and vocational programs for survivors, family members, and their grandchildren. There’s going to be taught in the eighth and tenth grade history classes in Chicago public schools a unit on police brutality, and specifically the Burge torture cases. There’s going to be a public memorial.
So we have both a kind of reckoning and acknowledgement of the harm that happened, and we have material support not just for the survivors, but their extended family. Recognizing that this isn’t just impacting survivors, though certainly it does, but also their extended families. And also, African-American community that was [inaud.]
DESVARIEUX: Darrell, what is the significance for you, on a personal level?
CANNON: Personally, the fact that the city has come to grips with this horrific injustice that was done to us is a monument in itself. And I’m still not satisfied. I will continuously say it, that when we started this battle, we had a glass that was empty. As a result of everything we’ve done, and the extraordinary measures that was taken by the city council, our glass is now half full. That is an achievement that no one could ever take from us. They said it couldn’t be done. But here in Chicago there’s an old saying that if you don’t like the weather one day wait till the next, and it’ll be something different.
You know, so here again, we’re in the process of not only making history but righting the wrongs that people said that could not be righted.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And I’m sure there are some people who are definitely in agreement with you, Darrell, but there are also some who might say this doesn’t go far enough. Because at the end of the day you still need to be able to have the community controlling the police. Policing the police, really. And you need a civilian review board with real teeth, you know –
CANNON: I totally agree. I totally agree.
DESVARIEUX: You totally agree. So how can there be more guarantees that this form of police brutality doesn’t happen? I’ll start off with you, Lauren.
TAYLOR: Sure. I mean, I think there’s a number of proposals. And this campaign does not end police violence in Chicago, right, and it doesn’t bring this chapter to a close, either. There’s ongoing things we need to do to advocate for survivors of police torture under Burge. For the 20 or so men who are still locked up who experienced torture and deserve evidentiary hearings. And then there’s a number of steps that we can take to end the ongoing and endemic racist [inaud.] in Chicago.
I think people have put out a number of proposals. As We Charge Genocide, we’re getting ready to launch a campaign around stop and frisk, and trying to both collect the data and then figure out how we can intervene in the ongoing targeting and profiling [inaud.] [color, ethnicity]. That’s our next step. I think there’s a lot of other ones out there that we’re working on.
Darrell, you had something you wanted to say.
CANNON: Yes. We intend to hold judges accountable now. You know, we’re never satisfied with what, everything that we got, we’re not satisfied. But we understand the process. Before you can run, you have to crawl. Before you can walk, you crawl. Okay, we did all the crawling we’re going to do. We’re now walking. And so we know that this is a platform that we can stand on to do other things.
We’re getting ready to organize groups, where any time that one of the men comes back from prison to have a hearing into police brutality, we intend to pack the courtrooms. To show the judges that it will not be business as usual anymore in the city of Chicago dealing with police brutality. We intend to hold everyone accountable. We have already held the legislators accountable, and now we’re going to hold judges and prosecutors accountable.
DESVARIEUX: You were mentioning walking. And interestingly enough, you guys have walking beside you the mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Considering Mayor Emanuel has been aggressively going after teachers’ unions, closing schools in low income neighborhoods, many people would argue having a very conservative sort of platform, he now is, he backed this reparations package. Let’s take a listen to what the mayor had to say about it.
CHICAGO MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This is another step, but an essential step, in righting a wrong. Removing a stain.
DESVARIEUX: So Lauren, we heard the mayor sort of touting this reparations package as–and really supporting it. So at the end of the day, is this a change of heart for the mayor? Or what are we really seeing as being the catalyst for this change?
TAYLOR: I think in–go ahead, Darrell.
CANNON: Go ahead, Lauren. No, she asked you.
TAYLOR: I mean, I think it really is the power of a movement that forced his hand. You know, I think the survivors and their families that refused to be silent about this for decades, the movement for justice around the Burge torture cases has lasted decades, and in the last six months we saw a concerted, grassroots, multi-generational, multiracial campaign that I think forced the hand of the administration. And we’re very grateful they came to the table, but I think the credit belongs to the survivors of the families of the movement. That’s how we got here.
DESVARIEUX: Darrell, what actions did you guys take? I mean, give us some tips here.
CANNON: What we did is, we continuously had a write-in campaign, call-in campaign. We had sit-ins at City Hall. Our civil duties were to get our message out to the people as well as to legislators, and we did in a manner that didn’t call for the city to be shut down, or for the National Guard to come in. Instead we did it intelligently, and with people power.
Now, I don’t mean to even emphasize that, okay, we’re saying that what Baltimore did was wrong or any other city was wrong. No, I’m not saying that at all. Because each city has to do what they feel they have to do in order to bring this injustice and these atrocities to an end. So people do what they have to do. Here in Chicago we had some brilliant minds come together, both black and white, Hispanics, all across genders, everybody came together for one common cause. And that was to bring Chicago to the reality about police torture and to do something about it.
You know, everybody’s never going to be happy with nothing that you do. But when the majority of the people say, okay, I see now why you did that–and this is a springboard that we can use to do other things. So we just have to take it a step at a time. And I’m proud of every organization, everybody in the city of Chicago, who participated in this endeavor. You see what happened, we became the first city in the nation.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Darrell Cannon and Lauren Taylor joining us, both from Chicago. Thank you both for joining us.
TAYLOR: Thank you for having us.
CANNON: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
*Those who will not qualify for financial benefits under this ordinance are torture survivors who are deceased, and those who have received over $100,000 in settlements already. It is estimated that around 80 survivors meet the qualifications.
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