On the 8th Anniversary of the Burge Torture Reparations Legislation

This is a public statement collectively written by the Chicago Torture Justice Center and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials in honor of the 8th anniversary of the historic Reparations Ordinance that was passed on May 6, 2015. This historic legislation was an important first step in addressing the harm of police torture. After 8 years, the memorial to honor survivors of police torture that the City of Chicago promised to fund and support has still not been built. Police torture did not begin or end with Jon Burge, and we believe the city must continue to be accountable to the violence inflicted against all police torture survivors. 

Today, May 6, 2023, marks the 8th anniversary of the passage of our city’s historic Reparations Ordinance for Chicago Police torture survivors in City Council. The legislation was drafted to provide redress to over 125 Black and Latine people subjected to racially motivated torture—including electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge from 1972 through 1991.

In passing this legislation, the City of Chicago made history becoming the first municipality to provide redress for racially motivated state violence. It was the first time Chicago acknowledged its responsibility for gross human rights violations—violations that were recognized by the UN Committee Against Torture. It was the first time we committed significant resources to begin to repair some of the harm inflicted on torture survivors, their families, and communities.

The legislation was the culmination of decades of activism, advocacy and organizing, and a concerted campaign led by incarcerated survivors and their families, and waged by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA, We Charge Genocide, Amnesty International USA, and many others. The passage of this unprecedented legislation sent a strong message that in the ongoing struggle for human rights and social justice, organizing—especially led by those who are most impacted—matters.

Rooted in a restorative justice framework, Chicago’s 2015 reparations package included: a formal apology from the Mayor and City Council; $100,000 in financial compensation to 57 police torture survivors; the development of the Reparations Won curriculum that is now mandated to be taught in all of our 8th and 10th grade classrooms in Chicago Public Schools; free tuition or job training at Chicago’s City Colleges for survivors and family members; the creation of a center dedicated to addressing the psychological harms created by racialized police violence—now the Chicago Torture Justice Center; and the promise to build a permanent public memorial acknowledging the torture, honoring survivors, and commemorating the struggles waged and won.

The creation of a public memorial ensures this chapter of racially motivated state violence is not erased from public memory by inscribing it onto the landscape of Chicago. It pushes us to ensure it never happens again. By centering the courage, resolve, and resilience of survivors, family members and organizers, the memorial will also be a testament to the power of our community-led movements and to what is possible as we continue to work towards creating a more just future for all of us in our city.

With the upcoming inauguration of Mayor Elect Brandon Johnson, we are optimistic that he will continue to steward the legacy of the Reparations Ordinance. This includes the full funding and construction of a memorial to honor survivors of police torture, a new reparations ordinance centered around survivors of police officers who were trained under Jon Burge and continued a pattern and practice of torture, and long term funding for CTJC, as he committed to during his campaign and previously when he was a Cook County Commissioner.

Chicago’s reparations legislation also enabled the creation of the historic Chicago Torture Justice Center—making Chicago home to the first and only center dedicated to supporting survivors of domestic torture. Six years into its existence, the Center provides lifesaving and necessary services to our neighbors impacted by police violence, directly and indirectly. Among others, that includes survivors of torture, their family members, and mothers whose children have been killed by police.

The 2015 reparations ordinance was a historic and important first step to repair far-reaching and systemic harms. This is just what it should be: a first step. Chicago Torture Justice Center and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials are fully committed to the hundreds of individuals tortured and abused by officers trained by Jon Burge, and to others harmed by the Chicago police. In the coming years, we will fight for reparations for survivors of police torture committed by disciples of Jon Burge. This is a critical contribution to the national conversation on ending racialized state violence as we continue the work of addressing deep harm and forging new futures for our communities.

Peaceful communities require active healing from the intergenerational trauma racialized violence creates.
On this anniversary, we honor the persistence, resilience, and courage of survivors, their family members, and all who fought and continue to fight on the side of justice and healing. We encourage all Chicagoans to join us as we continue the work of healing our communities and ending violence in our city.

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