The city of Chicago has paid $5.5 million in reparations to 57 people whose claims that they were tortured by police decades ago were found to be credible.
The money was paid Monday to victims of a police unit commanded by disgraced former police commander Jon Burge from the 1970s through the early 1990s, according to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.
“Jon Burge’s actions are a disgrace to Chicago and to the hard-working men and women of the police department, but most importantly to those he was sworn to protect,” Emanuel said in a statement. “We stand together as a city to try and right those wrongs, and to bring this dark chapter of Chicago’s history to a close.”
More than 100 men, mostly African-American, have accused Burge and officers under his command of shocking, suffocating and beating them into giving false confessions, some of which landed them on death row. Burge has never been criminally charged with torture, but he served a 4 ½-year sentence for lying about the torture in a civil case and was released from a halfway house last year.
The $5.5 million adds to more than $100 million that has been paid in court-ordered judgments, settlements of lawsuits and legal fees — most of it spent by the financially strapped city of Chicago and some by Cook County — over the years related to the torture scandal. The $100,000 payment most victims received Monday is a fraction of some previous settlements.
A months-long claims process for the payments included vetting by an arbitrator and by a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology's Kent School of Law.
The reparations were part of an ordinance the City Council passed last year that also mandated a formal apology, the construction of a memorial to the victims and the addition of the police torture to the city's school history curriculum. It also provides psychological counseling and free tuition at some community colleges. Some of the benefits are available to victims' children and grandchildren.
Paying reparations "is a moral compunction and a moral reckoning to right a wrong," Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the newspaper. "There is no statute of limitations on that."
The payments come as the Chicago Police Department is under withering criticism since the release in November of a video showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The video prompted protests and led to a civil rights investigation of the entire department by the U.S. Department of Justice.
One torture victim, Darrell Cannon, said Monday that the payments were only the first step toward healing the city.
"We still have a long way to go," he said.
Cannon was freed after 24 years in prison when a review board determined that evidence against him was tainted.