During the October 16, 2013 Chicago City Council meeting, a lot of the City’s business got done.
There was introduction of an ordinance on the “Amendment of Municipal Code Chapter 4-288 concerning licensing and regulation of crane operators”, for example. That ordinance was sponsored in part by Mayor Emanuel and passed into law less than two months later.
Then there was the “Amendment of Municipal Code Section 4-156-430 concerning athletic contests at night and weekday afternoons.” Also sponsored by the mayor, it, too, became law less than a few months later.
An “Amendment of grant(s) of privilege in public way for Lickity Split Frozen Custard and Sweets,” was brought up at that meeting as well. Sponsored by 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, that one only took a month before it was law.
In fact, hundreds of pieces of the people’s business were addressed during that day’s Council meeting, including one more piece of legislation sponsored by aldermen Joe Moreno (1) and Howard Brookins (21).
This one, a “Call for reparations for victims and family members affected by law enforcement torture or abuse,” didn't get passed. Instead, it was referred that day to the Council Committee on Finance, chaired by powerful Alderman Ed Burke (14).
And there it has sat, for almost a year.
Why does this matter? Because on this day, Thursday, October 2, the man at the center of a dark and shameful chapter in Chicago history is expected to walk free, while legislation calling for compensation for his victims continues to languish in Chicago’s City Council.
We’re talking, of course, of Jon Burge. A former Chicago Police commander, Burge allegedly tortured more than 200 criminal suspects between 1972 and 1991 in order to force confessions. Burge has since cost the City of Chicago more than $120 million in lawsuits and payouts stemming from his years spent allegedly using cattle prods, electrical charges and mock executions on his victims.
Burge is expected to be released from a North Carolina prison, where he served three and a half years for lying under oath.
Brookins and Moreno’s ordinance seeks to help those torture survivors who saw their life destroyed as a result of Burge’s actions. It creates a commission to administer financial compensation to the survivors;, along with a medical and psychological center on the south side of Chicago, free enrollment in City Colleges for the survivors and $20 million to finance these efforts.
At the time, the ordinance’s sponsors saw the matter as one of simple fairness. “Let’s remember that we set aside millions - tens of millions - of dollars every year to settle these cases and to pay attorneys,” Moreno said when the ordinance was introduced in 2013. “I think $20 million is fair if we look at what we’re setting aside.”
In September, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the unprecedented step of apologizing for what he called “a stain on the city’s reputation” and “a dark chapter in the history of the City of Chicago.”
There’s no reason the Chicago City Council can't do its part as well.
Especially when it’s so good at taking care of issues like crane operators, athletic contests and frozen custard stands.