Opinion: Burge Still Haunts Chicago

Man is freed after 30 years in jail for a confession extracted under torture

Another ghost from one of the darkest chapters in Chicago history popped up again on Wednesday.

Stanley Wrice, a man who spent 30 years behind bars, was released from jail after a judge threw out his conviction for a 1980s rape. In doing so, the judge agreed with Wrice, now 59, that two of disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge's top lieutenants had tortured him into confessing and then covered up the abuse.

Mr. Wrice isn't the first man to lose decades of his life to a story of torture and wrongful conviction in Chicago. And, unfortunately, he won't be the last.

The Burge story, often repeated, remains shocking for the trail of destruction and damaged lives it has left behind. Between 1972 and 1991, he and his lieutenants are said to have tortured over 200 suspects, extracting dozens of false confessions.

In his case, Wrice was sentenced in 1982 to 100 years for sexual assault. He says he was forced to confess after two detectives beat him with a flashlight and a 20-inch piece of rubber, instruments attorneys have argued were commonly used to force confessions under Burge.

On Tuesday, a judge agreed. On Wednesday, Wrice was freed.

But there are more waiting in the shadows. The MacArthur Justice Center of Northwestern Law is seeking class action certification for those who remain, saying a conservative estimate places the number at more than 40 with many more currently unable to be identified.

Chicago has made repeated strides in trying to come to grips with the atrocities of the Burge era. So far, the city has spent nearly $85 million in settlements and legal fees for those who suffered at the hands of Burge and others.

In September, Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized, calling the period a "dark chapter" in the city's history.

But more needs to be done. In October, Aldermen Howard Brookings (21st) and Joe Moreno (1st) introduced an ordinance calling for $20 million in reparations for Burge’s victims.

The ordinance also calls for a city committee to handle the issue, a formal apology on the part of the city and history lessons about the decades-long scandal in Chicago Public Schools. Victims would get counseling, health care, job training and free tuition at the city’s community colleges.

As part of Chicago’s attempt to face what has happened, the City Council should pass the ordinance as soon as possible and the Emanuel administration should find the money where it can.

When faced with great horror, such as uncovering torture being committed in the name of its citizens, societies are faced with the need to get to the truth and offer reconciliation as honestly and as completely as possible before the issues can truly be put to rest.

Chicago must do everything it can to recognize and repair the damaged lives and lost decades of those who deserve to stand alongside Stanley Wrice as free men.

Because, the truth is, there are many more ghosts to come.

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