In Chicago, reparations arent just an idea. Theyre the law

The long read: For decades, a gang of Chicago police tortured and forced confessions from people in custody. Now, in a historic move, the city is teaching this shameful history in schools but not everyone thinks it should

What do you know about Jon Burge? On the morning of 16 April 2018, Juanita Douglas was asking her students a question shed never asked in a classroom before, not in 24 years of teaching in Chicagos public schools. Shed been preparing to ask the question for over a year, and she knew that for many of her students the conversation that followed would be painful. Disorienting. She didnt like the idea of causing them pain. She didnt want to make them feel overwhelmed or lost. But she thought, or at least hoped, that in the end the difficulty would be worth the trouble.

It was only second period. Several of Douglass students were visibly tired. A few slumped forward, heads on their desks. Some were stealthily texting or scrolling through Snapchat. Others were openly texting or scrolling through Snapchat.

After a few seconds, Douglas repeated the question: Do you know Jon Burge?

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A ragged chorus of noes and nopes and nahs.

Tell me again what year you were born in, said Douglas, who is 54 and likes to playfully remind her students that they dont know everything about the world.

2000. 2001. 1999.

OK, she said. Well welcome to Chicago.

Douglas switched off the lights and played a video. Who was Jon Burge? The video supplied the answer. Burge was a former Chicago police department detective and area commander. Between 1972 and 1991 he either directly participated in or implicitly approved the torture of at least and this is an extremely conservative estimate 118 Chicagoans. Burge and his subordinates known variously as the Midnight Crew, Burges Ass Kickers, and the A-Team beat their suspects, suffocated them, subjected them to mock executions at gunpoint, raped them with sex toys, and hooked electroshock machines up to their genitals, their gums, their fingers, their earlobes, overwhelming their bodies with live voltage until they agreed: yes, theyd done it, whatever theyd been accused of, theyd sign the confession.

The members of the Midnight Crew were predominately white men. Almost all of their victims were black men from Chicagos South and West Sides. Some had committed the crimes to which they were forced to confess; many had not. The cops in question called the electroshock machines nigger boxes.

The video cut to Darrell Cannon, one of the Midnight Crews victims. He spoke about getting hauled by cops into a basement: I wasnt a human being to them. I was just simply another subject of theirs. They had did this to many others. But to them it was fun and games. You know, I was just, quote, a nigger to them, thats it. They kept using that word like that was my name.

Text on the screen explained that Burge was fired in 1993, following a lawsuit that forced the Chicago police to produce a report on his involvement in systematic torture, written by its own office of professional standards. After his firing, Burge moved to Apollo Beach, Florida, where he ran a fishing business. In 2006, another internally commissioned report concluded that hed been a torture ringleader, but still no charges were brought; Illinois five-year statute of limitations for police brutality charges had by then expired. In 2008, FBI agents arrested Burge at his home, and creative federal prosecutors charged him not with torture, but with perjury. In a 2003 civil case, Burge had submitted a sworn statement in which he denied ever taking part in torture. In 2010 a jury found him guilty.

As soon as the video ended and Douglas flipped the lights back on, her students most of whom were, like her, black started talking. Their confusion ricocheted around the room.

How long did he get?

Four-and-a-half years.

He only got four-and-a-half years?

Thats what Im saying.

I really feel some type of way about this.

Is he still alive?

Ive got it on my phone.

He didnt torture them alone. Why didnt anyone else get charged?

Ive got it on my phone. Hes still alive.

Im just angry.

He lives in Florida!

Didnt no one hear the screams?


Douglass students didnt yet know it, but they were not the only Chicago students wrestling with Jon Burge and the Midnight Crew last spring. In fact, teachers and students at each of the citys 644 public schools were figuring out how to talk about the cops of the Midnight Crew. Teachers were going down this path whether they wanted to or not. There was no choice: it was an official requirement, codified in city law.

This classroom initiative is part of a historic, novel and perplexingly under-covered development in the ever-more urgent search for solutions to the cumulative harm inflicted on Americans especially black Americans in the name of law and order. On 6 May 2015, in response to decades of local activism, Chicagos city council passed a resolution officially recognising that Burge and his subordinates had engaged in torture, condemning that torture, and offering his victims (or at least some of them) compensation for their suffering.

The resolution is a singular document in American history. Torture accountability even basic torture honesty has been a perennial nonstarter in US politics. Reparations, especially those with a racial component, have long been treated as, alternately: an incoherent absurdity; a frightening threat; a nice-sounding but impractical rallying cry; or, more recently, in the wake of the National Magazine Award-nominated essay in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, as a worthy but still essentially utopian demand. But within Chicago city limits, reparations for police torture isnt just a thought exercise, a rhetorical expression about what should exist in a better world. Its Chicago city council resolution SR2015-256: an official political promise.

Jon
Jon Burge, the former Chicago police commander who led the Midnight Crew. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

If this is the first youve heard of all this, you are hardly alone. Among locals of all races, and even among national experts on torture and torture accountability, remarkably few are familiar with the experiment unfolding right now in Chicago. If people know anything about it, they likely know that it involved some money: a pool of $5.5m from which certain victims of the Midnight Crew could receive up to $100,000 each, regardless of whether their coerced confessions had been false or not regardless, that is, of whether, in the eyes of the law, they had ultimately been judged guilty or innocent.

In addition to the cash payouts, SR2015-256 contained a handful of other benefits for the victims, including free tuition at the citys community colleges and free access to a new psychological counselling centre. In recognition of the fact that tortures effects reach beyond the lives of individual victims, these services were made available to all members of survivors immediate families, and in some cases to their grandchildren.

The resolution also pledged the city to take two concrete steps to counteract its decades-long tradition of trying to make the Burge story disappear. First, Chicago officials would work with activists to erect a memorial to the citys police-torture survivors. Second, the citys public schools would henceforth be required to add a lesson about the Burge case and its legacy to the official history curriculum for teenagers. To many of the activists who fought for the reparations package, the curriculum was its most meaningful component, precisely because of what it asked from the city: not money, but time and talk, however awkward or uncomfortable that talk might be.

The memorial design and site selection process is still under way. But last August, city officials held a press conference to announce that, after two years of development, the new curriculum titled Reparations Won was ready for the children of Chicago.


Chicago is one of Americas most racially diverse cities, but also one of its most racially segregated: a patchwork of different social and economic worlds that know relatively little about each other. For this reason, my original hope was to watch the curriculum being taught in schools all across the city. What would lessons about the Midnight Crew look like in resource-starved black schools on the South and West Sides? How would the same curriculum be taught in predominantly Latino classrooms? (There are more Latino students than students of any other racial background in Chicago schools.) What about schools in the almost-suburbs just inside the city line that are disproportionately populated by cops, firefighters and other city workers, in classrooms full of their children and nephews and nieces?

Douglas was the only teacher out of dozens I asked who opened the doors of her classroom to me. The curriculum was too important, she said, for its rollout to go completely undocumented. Last spring, I spent 18 mornings in her classroom at Lincoln Park high school, observing two back-to-back sections of her black-history class as they worked through Reparations Won.

Before my first day, reading over the curriculum and imagining myself in Douglass shoes, I felt overwhelmed by the visceral intensity of the material alone. Once I was in her classroom, though, I quickly realised the presence of another challenge, one that will surely be obvious to any teacher. It was the problem of shared knowledge, and how little of it Douglas could presume.

Most of her students were black, and some were Latino, Asian-American, biracial, multiracial. Just one was white. Though Lincoln Park is a prosperous North Side neighbourhood, most of them lived on the South or West Side, where Chicagos black population has historically been concentrated, and came north every morning because the high school that used to be in their neighbourhood is now closed. Some students had been to Black Lives Matter protests. Others had never been to any protest of any kind in their lives. Some students came to class wide awake, visibly enthusiastic, caffeinated. Others showed up looking exhausted, or like they were counting down the hours until the end of class, until lunch, until prom, until graduation. Some came to school every day, and were already thinking about college. Some came now and then, and were not sure they would graduate. Some had family members whose lives had been deeply marked by interactions with Chicagos cops and courts and jails and prisons. Some had family members who were cops, or used to be. It was Douglass job to teach them all.


The first few days were heavy on context: on white Chicagos long history of resistance to its black population; on Burges upbringing in the all-white South Side neighbourhood of Deering, which, during his lifetime, became an all-black neighbourhood; on the citys intentional overcrowding of black neighbourhoods and schools; on the escalation of the police war on crime in black neighbourhoods; and, finally, on the first allegations against the Midnight Crew, and how they were ignored by the very man with the most immediate power to investigate the charges and punish the perpetrators, then-Cook county states attorney Richard M Daley, who would go on to become mayor.

On the fourth day, the class watched another video, this one detailing the case of Ronald Kitchen, a Midnight Crew victim who, largely on the basis of his tortured confession, was found guilty of murdering two women and three children and sent to death row. Beginning in 1990, he spent 21 years before his conviction was quashed and a judge declared him innocent.

The video featured footage from the 2011 deposition of Detective Michael Kill, one of Kitchens torturers. In this footage, Kill is 70 and long retired. (Kill died in 2018.) Wiry and full of contempt, he leans back in his chair, as if keeping his distance from something that smells bad. Offscreen, Kitchens lawyer asks Kill whether he made a practice of using the n-word in his interrogations.

Sure I did, says Kill.

How often?

I would say I used it as many times as I had to.

But why?

Well, Kill says, his grimace intensifying, how many inches of tape are in your recorder?

Kitchens lawyer asks him why he used the N-word so much.

Kill shakes his head, still grimacing. Trying to explain police work to you, he says to the lawyer, is like trying to explain physics to my grandson who is three years old. He used the word, he explains, to make suspects feel comfortable. To show them he understood their world, knew their language. Youre not there, he says. You havent been there. You dont understand it, OK? You have to live it.

No, Kill says, he never beat Kitchen. Never tortured Kitchen. Why would he do something like that, he asks rhetorically, and risk getting fired, losing his pension? No, he knew nothing about anyone beating or torturing Ronald Kitchen. Jon Burge was his boss, sure. But he hardly knew the guy. Couldnt really tell you anything about him.

A
A rally for victims of police torture in Chicago in 2006. Photograph: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Many of Douglass students were visibly upset by Kill: by what he was saying, by how casually he was saying it, by his apparent disdain for the very idea that anyone might think anything hed done would require an explanation. Can we turn it off? asked a boy seated next to me, quietly and plaintively. But the longer the video went on, the more the kids started making fun of Kill: they knew, after all, that the old mans denials hadnt carried the day; that the state had set Kitchen free, that the city had settled his civil case for $6.15m. They started laughing at Kills clipped speech, his old Chicago accent, his pissy evasions. A Latina girl, one of Douglass most reliable participants in class discussions, snickered and mimed taking a picture of Kills scowling face on her phone, suggesting what a good meme it would make. When you know you got caught, she said, laughing.

The next day, the class watched footage of Kitchen himself, filmed after he was released from jail but before he won his settlement. Someone off-camera asks him to describe his post-release life. Kitchen tells them he hardly sleeps. That the mere sight of a Chicago police car sends him into a full-body terror, which is why hes had to leave Chicago, the only city he ever knew. Its hard, he says. Its hard, its hard. Its like a dream to me, sitting up here with you. Its like, at any moment, this could get taken away from me all over again.

It had been easy, perhaps, to joke about Michael Kill: a caricature of an old white villain on the wrong side of history. But there were no jokes to tell about Ronald Kitchen. Do you know how many of the police went to jail? asked a black girl toward the front of the class, referring to all the other Midnight Crew members besides Burge. It wasnt the first time one of Douglass students had posed the question, and it wouldnt be the last. Each time, the answer was the same: zero.

After class that day, I stayed behind to look at what everyone had written on their reflection sheets. Douglas collected these almost every day, and she often let me look at them, wanting me to understand that the reactions I saw during class were only part of the story. Many of her students rarely spoke unless forced to. On their reflection sheets, however, freed from their worry about how a roomful of their fellow teenagers would respond, these same students would often write searching, poignant reflections, and pose deep questions. On the day of the Kitchen video, their comments were particularly painful to read:

That could be me!

This affects how my life will be, because when I decide to create a family I will constantly be in fear if my husband is safe or my children if I have a son I have to fear he may get stopped by the police.

It could be my boyfriend, dad, cousins, etc.

This is stuff that I see in movies and may encourage if I dont like the bad guy, but its unimaginable to think about in real life.

This was like being a slave, but in the 90s.

My dad just got pulled over recently and he wasnt tortured, but what if this did happen to him?

My father was also framed with something he didnt do. (Hes been in there since I was 3 and is getting out in 2027.)


The longer I spent in Douglass class, the more I came to feel that the atmosphere in the room, as a group of young people made contact with the Burge saga, was history itself not the professional academic enterprise, not the subject of polished books and articles, but the living tangle of connections between past and present that is always available to us, sometimes as inspiration or solace, sometimes a burden, most often both at once. This sense of history, of course, will be central to any serious attempt at reparations in America. At Lincoln Park high, I was watching students dive into the living tangle watching them pull out this strand, that strand, and ask what they meant, where they belonged.

On 14 September 2017 less than a month after the curriculum was unveiled the now-defunct local news site DNAinfo ran a story about a meeting between parents, faculty and staff at Edison Park elementary, a school on Chicagos Northwest Side, where many cops live. All of the parents quoted in the article were opposed to Reparations Won.

Youre taking eighth graders and trying to mould their minds with material that is highly confrontational and controversial, said Angela McMillin, who described herself as infuriated, appalled and disgusted by the curriculum. McMillin wanted to opt her daughter, an eighth grader, out of the curriculum.

The schools principal, Jeffrey Finelli, informed her that this would not be possible. It would be a little like saying, I dont like quadratic equations, so Im going to opt out of algebra, Finelli said.

Emily Skowronek, a social-studies teacher who would be teaching the curriculum, was also present at the meeting. She promised, in the paraphrase of Alex Nitkin, the DNAinfo reporter, to leave the Burge episode squarely in the past. There are a lot of bad apples in every profession, Skowronek said. And well try to portray that to our kids.

I contacted McMillin and several other attendees of the Edison Park meeting, hoping to learn more about their objections. Most people did not write or call me back; of those who did, all refused to speak to me, even anonymously. One person, explaining their refusal, wrote: After the article came out from DNA, the reaction was kind of like a lynch mob people from other parts of the city were really nasty and mean and not at all considerate of the huge amount of parents that work for the police department in our area and parents of students that attend our school. It was actually said how racist we were that we were even questioning the curriculum.

This, too, was history.


between two different takeaways from the material at hand. Takeaway One stressed the horror of it all, and the deeply systemic nature of that horror: all the cops and prosecutors and judges and city officials (mayors!) who had turned a deaf ear to the complaints of torture for so long, afraid of what they would mean, if true, about their professions, their jobs, the convictions theyd won, the sentences theyd passed down, the city theyd made.

Douglas pushed Takeaway One because she wanted her students to understand the truth of the world they lived in but also, it was clear, because she wanted them to be safe. More than once, she drew her students attention to the case of Marcus Wiggins, a black 13-year-old tortured by the Midnight Crew. Why would they torture a 13-year-old? Why are they torturing a 13-year-old? I need an answer.

A Latino boy in the front row began to venture a response. For suspected

Douglas cut him off. But why? I want you to look at everybody in this room.

He hesitated. Maybe because they can. Theyre using their authority.

Douglas nodded, then pushed the point a step further. You might think of yourself as kids, she told them, but that didnt mean they would see you that way too. This was why it was important for them to be careful. Important not to joke around not to act like kids in the presence of cops. Important not to assume that things work the way theyre supposed to work.

Of course, if Takeaway One was all there was, the curriculum would be an extended meditation on the intolerable harshness of the world. No one involved in its creation or implementation wanted that to be its only message to Chicagos teenagers. And so, Takeaway Two stressed the importance of individual choices, even in the face of systemic injustice.

Celebrations
Celebrations outside a courthouse in Chicago after Jon Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2010. Photograph: Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

This was why the curriculum was called Reparations Won: it was meant to be more than a catalogue of woe. It was also a testament to the possibility of pushing back and changing the world. There were all the activist groups who kept showing up, year after year, decade after decade, asking for torture accountability. One of these groups, We Charge Genocide, even sent a delegation of young Chicagoans to Switzerland in 2014 to talk about Chicago police in front of the United Nations committee against torture. (One member of that delegation, Douglas told them, was a Lincoln Park alumnus one of her former students.) There were the lawyers who took the victims cases long before anyone had even heard of the Midnight Crew. There was the county medical examiner who insisted, despite police pressure, on making a formal record of the injuries sustained by Andrew Wilson, Burges first accuser to get any traction in court. There was the cop, or the multiple cops, who when they heard about the lawyers bringing torture cases against the CPD, started anonymously mailing them notes, feeding them names to dig into.

So many people deciding to do nothing to keep their heads down and not cause trouble, to not risk the danger of upsetting the system. So many people deciding to do something to insist on things being different.


Near the end of my time in Douglass class I was sent a recording of a recent meeting about Reparations Won at Wildwood elementary, a predominantly white school on the Northwest Side. The person who sent me the recording told me I could use it however I wanted, as long as I didnt identify them. Wildwood is the neighbourhood immediately to the east of Edison Park. Id heard of it for the first time from Douglas, who, in a classroom discussion of Chicago segregation, had recalled her first and only trip to Wildwood. One day in the 90s she drove her son there for a high school football training clinic. She told her students how surprised she was by the leafy, suburban feel of the neighbourhood. This was Chicago? But most shocking of all was the sight of local teenagers showing up to the clinic on bikes and leaving them on the ground. Unlocked!

The recording I received starts with Mary Beth Cunat, the Wildwood principal, laying out the evenings format to the audience, which is obviously made up of parents of her students. Im just nervous, she says, and she sounds it. There are multiple speakers, she explains; each will have their turn, and then parents will have a chance to write their remaining questions and concerns on Post-it notes. We didnt leave time for open-ended questions and answers, she says, but promises that the Post-it notes will be read.

A Wildwood history teacher reads a prepared statement about the value of teaching difficult histories. Then he leaves, explaining that he has another obligation to get to.

Theres no police-bashing going on here, says Cunat. Its focusing on a very discrete episode in history.

A representative of the Chicago Committee on Human Relations gives a bizarre speech in which he explains the committees mandate to investigate discrimination of all kinds in the city. He makes no mention of Jon Burge, the Midnight Crew or Reparations Won.

Then a local police commander expresses his fundamental concern about the curriculum: You know, I think anyone who has been around children probably realises that they dont hear everything that we say. So thats probably our biggest concern. Even though theyre going to teach a curriculum [the kids] are going to hear what they want to hear. And Im just afraid that some of them might feel themselves empowered that maybe they dont have to listen to the police. You know, in a stressful situation. And maybe they should run from the police. And theyd be endangering themselves

His advice to Wildwood parents, however, is to accept that the curriculum is happening, and do their best to make sure it is being implemented responsibly.

The fourth speaker is explaining the meaning of restorative justice, when a man in the audience interrupts. Wont the curriculum, the man wonders, be teaching a false narrative? [Burge] hasnt been convicted of anything in our courts. So how can you teach that?

Principal Cunat reassures the man that the curriculum does not say Burge was convicted of torturing anyone just perjury and obstruction of justice.

And then all the ones that supposedly were victims are they going to have their rap sheets? the same man asks. Are they going to show these kids that? Are they going to have both sides of the conversation?

Cunat tells the man that, if he has a question, he should write it down.

Id rather sit here and we can all ask our questions and we can all know the answers, the man says. Does anyone else agree with that?

If you want that kind of meeting, says Cunat, you are free to let me know.

OK, says the man. We want that kind of meeting. We would rather have an open discussion.

One of the reasons we dont have an open conversation, says Cunat, is because it ends up getting derailed I really respect you. I care about you a lot. I really feel like it could just become this ad hoc stuff is not very safe, in terms of my staff and in terms of what were trying to accomplish.

But what are we trying to accomplish? asks the man.


On 30 April, Douglas reminded her students that on the following day they were not to come to the classroom, as usual, but instead to go to the library, where they would have the chance to hear from Ronald Kitchen, who had flown in from Philadelphia. In 24 hours they would be in the same room as the man from the video. The man theyd heard Michael Kill lie about. Someone for whom thinking about torture required no imagination at all, because hed lived it.

Douglas had recruited a few students to give Kitchens visit an air of ceremony. Theyd printed up programmes. One boy played some welcome music on his guitar: an acoustic rendition of a song by Death, the black band from Detroit that played punk before punk was really a thing. A girl read a poem shed written called What They Dont Tell You about Black Boys. Another girl read an introduction: Mrs Douglas has been teaching us about the agonising tortures of African American men. We welcome one to speak with us today. She turned away from her classmates and toward Kitchen, who was sitting on a chair behind her. I just want to say to you personally that your story will never be forgotten.

Kitchen nodded, taking in the scene in front of him. Im really touched, he said. Sometimes Im at a loss for words when I see a lot of young people actually taking heed of whats happened.

He took a breath, then spoke for almost 20 minutes without notes. He talked about how bogus the charges against him had been. He talked about co-founding, with other Midnight Crew survivors, the Illinois Death Row 10, the campaign that eventually won a moratorium on all Illinois executions, since expanded into full abolition. He talked about completely losing touch with his son, who was three when he was arrested. About how, whenever it was time for someone to be executed, a guard would bring that person down the hall, letting him stop at each cell along the way to say goodbye. He talked about how, whenever he heard them coming, he would lie on his bed and pretend to be asleep, because he couldnt bear to face them. He talked about how ashamed this made him feel, looking back. He talked about his mother, who developed dementia while he was in prison and did not recognise him when he was released.

Ronald
Ronald Kitchen in 2009. Photograph: Richard A Chapman/AP

It wasnt a practised speech. It wasnt shaped to build to a certain point or lesson or revelation. Kitchen talked about having been a drug dealer. It was never a secret, he said. Never has been: that was my living. That was true Kitchen has always been upfront about his past but I could not remember Douglass class discussing it. I thought I could feel a shift in the nature of the rooms collective attention, the cumulative effect of several dozen teenage minds simultaneously switching gears to process the same new variable. Kitchen didnt dwell on it. He urged students to get involved with activism urged them to avoid the delusion that change was impossible.

I want to thank you all for allowing me to come sit here and talk to you all, he said, again looking almost dumbfounded by where he was in a Chicago history classroom and what he was doing there. Im trying not to tear up. Im good at it. Im good at holding my stuff in. I love that you gave me so much attention. I never had this much attention. I really do appreciate it. Thank you.

There was a short Q&A session. The students sounded more formal than usual, like they were trying to be their most mature, respectful, adult selves which, as often happens with children trying not to sound like children, had the primary effect of evoking how young they remained.

Are you able to sleep any better now? a student asked. I know that sleep is, like, a big thing.

Actually, I dont sleep, said Kitchen, looking like he regretted having to be the bearer of this bad news. Im still on penitentiary time, for real. I eat like he mimed shovelling food into his mouth as fast as he could I choke some food down. Im still on penitentiary time. I have to catch myself, when Im at home: I hear the clink of them rattling the bars I cant really sleep. Ill get up and Ill walk around my house. Ill check the doors, peek out of the curtains. Or Ill sit up, listen to the radio, watch TV for hours. I really dont sleep.


At Wildwood elementary, the new curriculum continued to prove contentious. Then, in June, two weeks before the end of the school year, Mary Beth Cunat stepped down as principal the result, according to reports, of outrage from parents following her decision to invite an anti-police speaker to a Wildwood career day. I assumed, when I saw the headline, that the speaker in question had to be a Midnight Crew survivor. I was wrong: it was a young Chicago activist and musician named Ethan Viets-VanLear, whom Cunat had asked to participate in the event at Wildwood. Viets-VanLear had been part of the delegation that travelled to Geneva to talk about Chicago police brutality in front of the UN. Asked by Wildwood students to explain his motivation, he talked about the 2014 death of his friend Dominique Damo Franklin, Jr at the hands of a Chicago police officer. Word of Viets-VanLears visit spread to Wildwood parents, some of whom quickly scoured his social media pages for anti-police sentiments and called for Cunat to be replaced. Both Viets-VanLear and Cunat reported receiving numerous death threats.

Cunat wrote an apology to the entire school, saying she regretted inviting Viets-VanLear. A few days later, an impromptu school-wide meeting was held for students to receive a presentation on policing from Martin Preib, vice-president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police the local law enforcement union and Adrian Garcia, a detective with a child at Wildwood. That afternoon, Cunat resigned. Fox News ran a story commemorating her downfall. She is now a principal in Rockford, Illinois, a city 90 miles west of Chicago.

In September, Jon Burge died. After being released from federal prison in 2014, he had moved back to Florida, where he lived off his police pension. In 2015, when SR2015-256 was signed, he was interviewed by Martin Preib for a now-defunct blog called The Conviction Project. I find it hard to believe, he said, that the citys political leadership could even contemplate giving reparations to human vermin.

After Burges death, Chicagos Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement saying that the organisation did not believe the full story about the Burge cases has ever been told Hopefully, that story will be told in the coming years.


A few months earlier, during the summer, I stopped by the Humboldt Park office of Joe Moreno, the Chicago city council representative who, working with a coalition of activists and lawyers, first put the reparations ordinance before the city council in 2013. I asked Moreno why he thought the resolution had passed in the end and not just passed but passed without a single nay vote from any of the historic white ethnic enclaves (or the more autonomous Caucasian wards, as Moreno referred to them). How had the official legislative body of a city that had never been able to admit to torture now swung all the way to reparations?

Moreno wanted to recognise that some council members had likely undergone a genuine change of heart. Midnight Crew survivors had met with many of them one-on-one, explaining what they wanted and why. Their lawyers had compiled the facts, and the facts were simply too overwhelming.

But Moreno also suggested a more cynical theory. There was still plenty of opposition still plenty of people at city hall who thought, in his paraphrase, I dont want to be for this, this is ridiculous, these guys are all guilty and just want money. But, he said, it had over time become much harder for them to be vocal on it that way. It wasnt that every alderperson stopped doubting Burges victims, he said but that some of them had made the decision to just move on: to pass the ordinance rather than fight.

This dynamic had shaped how the ordinance was covered, Moreno argued. Every journalist, they savour so much the fight, he said. Had there been a protracted legislative battle between different Chicago constituencies, it might have been covered more prominently. Instead, the ordinance which, in the scheme of city budgeting, cost relatively little passed, and the story lost much of its oxygen for the citys journalists.

To the extent this was anyones goal and of course they would never say so if it was it may look as if their wish has been granted. All spring, I made sure to check my Chicago torture and Chicago torture curriculum Google Alerts daily, eager to see the stories that appeared. Now and then, Burge was mentioned in yet another story about bad Chicago cops using torture or blackmail to frame suspects, or about more potential Midnight Crew victims getting their claims heard in court. But the school year ended, the summer dragged on, and no stories about the curriculum appeared. (At least until Burges death, when the New Yorker ran a story about the curriculum on its website, and many of Burges obituaries also mentioned its existence.) I kept telling people I met about reparations in Chicago, and they kept being shocked that they didnt already know about it.

In the short term, SR2015-256 has not made Chicago as a whole appreciably more conscious of its own history. But not every major development in a citys (or a nations) consciousness of itself gets noticed as such upon its arrival. Thousands of children all over Chicago have now talked about the city in a new way, and thousands more will again next year, and again the year after that. The impact of this is impossible to predict with any specificity: there is no such thing as a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis of starting to tell the truth, together, about what happened.

This is an abridged version of an essay from the latest issue of The Point, a Chicago-based journal of ideas

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Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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