Indifference Allowed Torture to Persist in Chicago

In 1982, Chicago's Dailey administration was indifferent to reports that "police killer Andrew Wilson's face looked normal going into an interrogation room, but resembled ground beef hours later." A few years later, the Chicago Police Department was indifferent when a police watchdog "raised serious questions about the electro-shocking of suspects."

In 1990, another watchdog "catalogued 50 cases of alleged police torture." The police department suppressed the report and retaliated against the watchdog. The report created a brief sensation when it became public in 1992 and a few strong voices in the alternative media and civil rights community tried to sustain an interest in reform, but public and media indifference soon prevailed.

Janet Reno was indifferent. So was the Reagan administration. In an atmosphere of indifference, Jon Burge and the detectives under his command found unchecked power to torture suspects, primarily black, on the south side of Chicago. [more ...]

Though the county's head of the criminal courts, Judge Paul Biebel, did a courageous thing in 2002 by appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Burge and his band of brothers, the result was a four-year, $7 million exercise in maintaining the status quo.

How ironic that former Gov. George Ryan, who sits in federal prison today, brought international attention to the tortured confessions of men on Death Row when so few others in powerful places had the will to act.

What accounts for our collective failure?

"My instinct is that racism, pro-police bias and bias in terms of poor black suspects, made it something that the press and prosecutors didn't want to deal with," [civil rights attorney Flint] Taylor said.

George Ryan did the right thing when he commuted Illinois death sentences in 2003, in part because he lost faith in confessions that the police swore were voluntary. Patrick Fitzgerald did the right thing this week when he indicted Burge. Others have done the right thing over the years by opposing and publicizing the abuse of criminal suspects. But Carol Marin is correct that too many for too long have been indifferent to a domestic torture scandal.

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    Good Sun Times Article (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by liberalone on Sat Oct 25, 2008 at 07:36:18 PM EST
    Thank you TChris for posting this.  I fear that far too many Americans have become desensitized to violence.  Intimidation and excessive use of force seem acceptable tools in combating crime.  Unless more communities demand greater accountability from law enforcement our police departments will continue to ignore incidents of torture.

    The Sun Times Article was spot on in its account of our indifference.

    Yeah, well, (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by BrassTacks on Sat Oct 25, 2008 at 08:44:31 PM EST
    No one ever said the Daley machine was filled with nice guys.  Thugs, all of them.  Reno was another bully.  

    Chicago politics... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Fabian on Sun Oct 26, 2008 at 08:36:47 AM EST
    Geez, at least in Ohio we kick the bums (Mark Dann) out and get Federal oversight (Cincinnati).

    Chicago politics is a little...different.


    A Long Time Coming (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Frank Burns on Sat Oct 25, 2008 at 10:59:00 PM EST
    I lived in Chicago during the events of Wilson's arrest and the subsequent investigations of Burge, and I knew the Office of Professional Standards person assigned to this case. The Chicago Reader did some outstanding articles (if they have an archive, search for "House of Pain", the first comprehensive overview of the incident).  When the revelations of US government sanctioned torture emerged over the past few years, I remembered the Wilson/Burge case and wondered if it would ever re-surface. It is an incredible story that has never had, in my opinion, the deserving national attention. For example, if I had not read this entry, I would not have known Fitz had indicted Burge. For a very long time, the conventional wisdom has been that these incidents were unfortunate, but would be more damaging to the body politic if their true, ugly nature was commonly known. I think many people are now coming to understand that hiding the reality only leads to more heinous, callous, and insdious behavior.

    Torture in any (none / 0) (#4)
    by JamesTX on Sun Oct 26, 2008 at 12:00:50 AM EST
    form is unacceptable, but the fact that it was allowed to happen, and that most Americans still don't really see any problem, is the more important issue. I have tried for years to really understand what is going on here. I try to consider explanations of all sorts but I frequently come up confused. My best approximation is that Americans, for the most part, identify with police officers and are willing to accept a moderate number of false convictions as the price for their own safety. But then when I talk to them they tend to say they think suspects are always guilty, and police abuse is justified. At one time I wanted to solve the problem. Nowadays, I am just depressed and withdrawn. I am really tired of trying to reason with people about it. I don't think Americans have the capacity for moral reasoning any more. If this is what they want, and what they somehow identify with, then I am not sure there is a solution. I think their desire for an authoritarian state is simply going to win out, and I think they aren't really going to understand the problem until it is too advanced to be solved. If this is what they want, I say ... let them get on with it.

    Mayor Daley was a Democrat... (none / 0) (#6)
    by diogenes on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 12:02:04 PM EST
    ...although it isn't exactly splashed all over the story.