On Oct. 21, authorities arrested former Chicago police commander Jon Burge at his Florida home. He is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury in relation to a police brutality scandal that spanned from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.
Dozens of Illinois inmates—many on death row—have gotten their convictions overturned on the basis of the inhumane and illegal practices used to extract confessions from them. Taxpayers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars to defend and settle lawsuits against Burge.
The case of Andrew Wilson would become the turning point in Burge’s career. On Feb. 14, 1982, police arrested Wilson, an African American man, in connection with the killing of two cops. By the end of the day, Wilson was in the hospital with cuts and bruises to his face, scalp and chest, and second degree burns to his right thigh. It was evident that he got those injuries while in police custody. Two years later, Wilson was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 1993, the Chicago Police Dept. fired Burge when an internal investigation found that he and his officers had tortured Wilson. In 2000, because of the torture and misconduct by police, former Illinois Governor George Ryan was forced to declare a moratorium on executions after he found that 13 death row inmates had been wrongly convicted. In 2003, Ryan commuted Wilson’s sentence to life along with 166 other death row inmates and pardoned four death row inmates. The following day, he granted clemency to all death row inmates, reducing their sentences to life without parole. Even though Burge was fired, he was still allowed to receive his $3,500-a-month pension.
On July 19, 2006, special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle released a 1,700-page report that cost the taxpayers of Chicago $7,000,000. The report reviewed 148 cases, out of which three of the cases would have proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court that five police officers, including Burge, had tortured their suspects. However, the report concluded that no indictments could be handed down because of the statute of limitations.
The document additionally revealed that former Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek knew that Wilson had been tortured, stating that Brzeczek had written a letter to Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley and his assistant, Richard Devine, asking them to investigate the charges. Daley and Devine, respectively mayor of Chicago and Cook County state’s attorney at the time the report was released, had done nothing in response to Brzeczek’s letter.
Racist police continue to enjoy impunity
Jon Burge was not arrested because of his torture practices. He was arrested because he provided false written answers to questions in a civil lawsuit that claimed he and other officers had abused inmates. The two counts of obstruction of justice could bring him 40 years in prison and the one count of perjury could bring him five years in prison.
The headlines of the Oct. 22 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times featured in big bold letters, "ONE BAD COP." The media and the government would like the public to believe that this is an isolated incident of racism and police brutality perpetrated by one rogue police officer.
This could not be further from the truth. The whole Chicago Police Department is a racist institution. A person of color is harassed or brutalized on a nearly daily basis. The latest incident happened on Oct. 18, when police approached 39-year-old African American Homer Taylor because he was acting erratically and drinking from an open bottle of liquor. When he ran, police tasered him to death.
Between June 11 and July 5 of this year, Chicago police shot 12 people, all Black or Latino. Six were wounded and six died. One of the victims included 17-year-old Jonathon Pinkerton, who was planning on touring colleges this fall, but now lies in bed completely paralyzed.
Jon Burge is a convenient fall guy. Government and the media would like the public to believe that Burge is a lone "bad apple" when the Chicago Police Department and the rest of the state apparatus bear nothing but rotten fruit. Daley, Devine and Brzeczek had full knowledge of Burge’s crimes and effectively did nothing to intervene. In fact, as state’s attorney, Daley knowingly used evidence obtained through torture to prosecute cases.
The present-day police department is no different. Daley, now mayor of Chicago, Police Superintendent Jody Weis and officers all the way down the chain of command continue to carry out racist brutality with impunity. Under the capitalist justice system, these criminals are shielded from any consequence from their repressive tactics against the working class.