Driven to a deserted field on the far Southside of Chicago, Darrell Cannon was scared to death. It was 1983 and the police wanted a confession. Darrell was terrorized with Russian roulette while being called a nigger. Officers attached cattle prods to his genitals and electrically shocked him. After hours of torture, he confessed to murder and spent over 20 years in prison. Fourteen of those caged inside a torture chamber called TAMMS supermax.
There isn’t enough money on earth to make up for such violence and torture. Apologies don’t erase the impact(s) of state-sanctioned violence. These things are true and yet such transgressions demand redress. Over the past few months, I’ve written about a re-animated campaign to pass a reparations ordinance for Burge torture survivors. The ordinance was introduced in October 2013 and had been stalled in the Chicago City Council. I’m on the advisory board of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) which is the group that introduced the ordinance. I’ve had a long-standing interest in the Burge police torture cases but only fully engaged over the past 6 months to pass the ordinance.
Today, CTJM announced the framework of a deal with the City of Chicago on the reparations ordinance. “Rooted in a restorative framework and reflecting critical provisions of the original Reparations Ordinance filed in October of 2013, the reparations package the City has agreed to includes a myriad of remedies that aim to meet the concrete needs of the Burge torture survivors and their family members. It will include:
1. A formal apology from the Mayor and City Council for the torture and abuse committed by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and police officers under his command;
2. A permanent public memorial acknowledging the torture committed by Burge and his men;
3. Inclusion of a lesson in the Chicago Public Schools 8th and 10th grade U.S. History curriculum on the Burge torture cases;
4. Provision of trauma and other counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and family members at a dedicated facility on the South Side of Chicago based on the model of services provided by the Marjorie Kovler Center and Heartland Alliance;
5. Free tuition or job training at Chicago’s City Colleges for Burge torture survivors, their family members, including grandchildren;
6. Job placement for Burge torture survivors in programs designated for formerly incarcerated people;
7. Priority access to City of Chicago’s re-entry support services, including: job training and placement, counseling, food, housing & transportation assistance, senior care, health care, and small business support services;
8. Financial compensation to the Burge torture survivors who are still with us today.
The City will set aside $5.5 million to establish a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Survivors. Every person found to have a credible claim of torture or abuse committed by Burge or his men at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 to 1991 will receive the same exact amount from the fund.”
Though we did not obtain everything that we wanted (particularly in terms of the financial compensation), all of the provisions of the original reparations ordinance are reflected in the final deal. We wanted and want more. However, the reality is that most of the Burge torture survivors have no recourse to sue the City, some remain locked up today, and they are getting older. They have been left with nothing but their needs. This legislation will provide a path to address those material and other needs. The ordinance was conceived as a living memorial. It is an abolitionist document that asks us to imagine and enact different forms of justice.
Daily we are inundated with all kinds of violence, suffering and pain. This can lead, as Howard Thurman (1961) has written, to “a kind of devastated deadness.” We can begin to feel powerless, impotent. Organizing is how I interrupt the violence and death-making to catch my breath. Organizing is an attempted rupture of the oppressive and death-making status quo. Organizing is about contending with and building power. Organizing means never being satisfied and always demanding more. Organizing has its own grammar, cadence, and music. But above all, organizing is fueled by and creates hope. Marshall Ganz is right:
“Hope is not only audacious, it is substantial. Hope is what allows us to deal with problems creatively. In order to deal with fear, we have to mobilize hope. Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change.”
And I know that for some, hope is in short supply these days. And why should it not be? We are witness to and experience the daily annihilation of black people at the hands of the state. We know how disposable we are. We are always aware of the precarity of our existence. What does it mean to “win” within the strictures of an unjust oppressive society? Why bother to resist?
We resist, I think, because we are entitled to live, to breathe, to be. In his well-known 1966 speech at Berkeley, Stokely Carmichael said: “I am black, therefore I am.” Yes, exactly and also I resist, therefore I am. I’m blessed to know Darrell Cannon. His experience of torture has animated my organizing. Watching him speak at today’s hearing was both inspiring and gut-wrenching. As he recounted his torture, he cried. “I’m crying because I am mad,” he told a packed room, “I’m still mad.” I resist too because of Darrell.
I resist because of the torture survivors still caged in Illinois prisons. I resist because I want those who were tortured and are no longer with us to know that we have not forgotten. Refusing to forget is resistance. We remember through organizing and struggle. Julius Lester (1968) wrote that his slave ancestors’ “lives were lived on a spider web stretched over the mouth of hell.” I’ve always felt those words viscerally. I believe that Burge’s victims’ “lives were (also) lived on a spider web stretched over the mouth of hell.” So we owe them the fight for some justice. We owe it to them not to forget. We owe that to ourselves too.
Decades of struggle in Chicago have led to today. Small ‘victories’ have paved the road: getting Jon Burge fired from the police force, a perjury conviction, survivors telling their stories and being believed. Soon this ordinance will be a brick in the long road to justice. There is still more work ahead to pass the ordinance and beyond it. Organizing is a marathon.
Darrell Cannon says that he cannot forget his experience of torture. Now the history and legacy of that violence will be taught in Chicago Public Schools. The future will remember Darrell’s torture too. His life matters. In the words of Dr. Joy James, #BlackLivesMatter because we make them. Making #BlackLivesMatter is our work here in Chicago, the ordinance is a contribution to that goal.
I wrote about Monica Jones’s case a year ago. The wonderfully talented Molly Crabapple has a new video for Fusion that addressing the charge of manifesting prostitution.
The video is introduced as follows:
In May 2013, Monica Jones, a student and LGBT activist at Arizona State University, was arrested for “manifesting prostitution.” Monica said she just accepted an undercover officer’s offer of a ride home from her favorite bar. Monica is among the tens of thousands of people arrested every year for prostitution-related offenses. According to the FBI, police arrested over 57,000 people on such charges in 2011. The vast majority were women.
My friend Crista Noel wrote a few words about the first day of Dante Servin’s trial for killing Rekia Boyd. Crista co-founded Women’s All Points Bulletin, a local organization focused on police violence against women. She has been a steadfast supporter of Rekia’s family for years. I appreciate that she has given me permission to publish this.
Court Day 1
by Crista Noel
For reasons unknown the rain reminded me of my grandfathers funeral.
Or maybe not
being shot in the head by the security guard he hired to protect the bowling alley he managed, was the revelation
My grandmothers old wives tale was true
when it rains on the day of a funeral
the Angels are crying
I was driving to a funeral,
and the Universe was storming.
As with all trials there is confusion and worry. They told Martinez it may be postponed because the Judges house flooded, but he did not disappoint.
The News crews filmed the family and the advocates, surrounding Martinez, they spoke passionately as I watched through the window.
Inside Angela expressed her grief, her anger barely subsided,
she will never forgive
Her sister sat quietly, as we all did, in the Courtroom as Dante’s face turned beet red as the charges and the punishment became real
in that moment
Icka testified she was angry that her sister was shot in the head and Antonio was only shot in the hand.
“How is that fair” she cried
They all ran from Dante’s bullets
and she cried
Over Rekia’s body
They wouldn’t let her ride to the hospital with Rekia
and Rekia hated being alone
For a moment Dante was alone with Rekia, talking on his cellphone when the cops arrived
What was he saying
How did he feel
This was caught on tape
Grateful for good friends and comrades. Grateful to those who say and spell out the names. Grateful to my friend Kelly for her words and deeds.
I’m writing this for myself and not as social commentary. I am writing to make sense and meaning. I am publishing these words not to invite comment but because perhaps others are struggling to make sense and meaning too.
I’ll admit that I am currently battling demoralization. I arrived to a pre-trial rally/gathering for Rekia Boyd during a downpour today. The skies opened and the rain came down mirroring my mood. I arrived late because I was supporting a young person who is on trial in juvenile court this morning. I ducked out and drove to Criminal Court to support Rekia’s family for a few minutes.
It was a small group when I arrived. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother who has been steadfast in fighting to bring his sister’s killer to court, had just finished speaking. People held signs and images of Rekia and other women killed by police.
I can’t lie. I was disappointed in the turnout. I know, I know that there are hundreds of reasons people didn’t show up in numbers. A friend mentioned that perhaps the rain had kept them away. I stared at him. We both knew the truth. For all of the talk of Black Lives mattering, all evidence points to the opposite. Rekia’s life surely mattered to her family and friends. It matters to the small but determined group that showed up in solidarity with her family today. Beyond that though, no, Rekia’s life doesn’t matter in this country.
There is in fact a hierarchy of oppression as Black women, Black trans and gender nonconforming people have even less access to limited sympathy than do cis heterosexual Black men. To deny this is to be a liar. When we call out ‘who will keep our sisters?’ too often we are greeted with one or two lone voices in the wilderness but usually with silence.
The prosecution opened its case against Dante Servin, the detective who killed Rekia Boyd, by saying: “She didn’t see it coming; she didn’t have a chance.” And so it is that too many Black people in this country don’t have a chance to live our lives free from terror.
There’s another videotaped execution of a Black man circulating. Some are calling it ‘shocking.’ It is not. According to reports, the video shows a 50 year old Black man fleeing from a white police officer who shoots him eight times. When the man is on the ground, the cops check his pulse presumably to make sure that he is dead. The dead man is then handcuffed. The dead man’s name is Walter Scott and I refuse to watch his killing. I don’t want to participate in the spectacle. That’s my choice and it won’t be everyone’s.
The deaths are like computer wallpaper and serve as background noise on social media. The deaths are fodder for the continued traumatization and oppression of Black people. The deaths are daily terrorism. Who is next? Will it be a loved one? Will it be me? I’m opting out of the endless ghastly ritual to preserve my soul. Enough. I can’t control the circulation of images of Black death across the world. I can only resolve not to add to the trauma by sharing images myself.
Another Black person is dead at the hands of the police. I don’t care if Mr. Scott was armed or unarmed. I don’t care if he was a family man or a deadbeat parent. I don’t care if he had a record or not. I am gutted that he was killed. That’s enough. Now comes the contest, the fight to define & decide whether this is a Black person who can be, should be mourned. Perhaps some columnists or pundits (white or Black) will write that we should direct our grief to a more ‘worthy’ or ‘true’ victim. Those words will cause a minor uproar on social media that will quickly fade.
Some of us won’t easily move on from the deaths. Each one feels like a lash to our souls. Those wounds are always tender. They stay with us. They linger in our consciousness and hearts. Because this is true, we won’t be swayed by the attempts to humanize the un-human. We won’t spend time talking about dehumanizing the un-human either. We understand that the (white) gaze is unimportant so we don’t seek it out. We let them do their own work with each other. We welcome those who want to uproot structural oppression while understanding that we have all we need to save ourselves. So we focus intently on our own survival and we ignore the chatter about allyship in favor of co-strugglers. We make the daily decision to love each other as Black people even more and to protect each other by any means necessary. We worry about what it does to Black people to live always with trauma, to exist so precariously, to be always at risk of corpsehood. We remember to grieve within our communities of choice. We remember to take the time to mourn, for real. We embrace both the struggle and the love.
When the police repeat that ‘they are in fear for their lives’ every time they shoot and/or kill a Black person, I think that we must take them at their word. Blackness poses an existential threat which must be destroyed. History attests to this reality. How else are we to understand the relentless, consistent, unending obliteration of Black people by the state over decades and centuries? Even after being shot 8 times, checked to make sure we aren’t breathing, the cops still chain our dead bodies with handcuffs. That behavior can only make sense if we understand blackness to be a perpetual threat to whiteness.
Some will read my words and clamor for a 10 point plan. That’s all well and good they’ll say, but how do we “fix” this? To you, I say, come up with your own “fixes.” I am in mourning today…
The following is a post written by my friend and comrade Alice Kim. It is re-published from her blog “Dancing the Dialectic.”
Earlier this week at the last mayoral debate in Chicago’s unprecedented run-off election, the scene outside WTTW Studio was a strange mix of about 75 Rahm supporters from Local 73, mostly middle-aged white men some wearing hard hats, carrying their shiny blue “I’m for Rahm” placards, a larger group of residents from the northwest side of Chicago protesting airport noise, and then there was us.
We were a small, some would say rag tag, group of about a dozen activists armed with a beautiful “Reparations Now” banner made by local artists and a sound system. Among us were queer activists, long-time prison abolitionists, torture survivors, and an NEIU student who learned about the protest from one of his teachers. Thanks to the power of amplification and to the chagrin of the pro-Rahm contingent, we were able to drown out their “Four More Years” chants with “Mr. Mayor if you care, we want reparations, fair and square” – a chant we had repurposed from our friends demanding noise-free air.
No fans of Rahm were in our group, but our purpose at the debate was not to support one candidate over another. Since attendance inside WTTW was by invitation only (and none of us had been invited), we gathered outside waiting for the candidates to arrive. Flanked by union Rahm guys and angry homeowners fed up with airport noise, we had a very specific message for the candidates: reparations for Chicago Police torture survivors.
The story of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his torture practices is chilling: Burge and his detectives tortured 119 African American men and women in their custody using torture tactics ranging from electric shock and suffocation with a typewriter bag to mock executions. These brutal interrogations elicited confessions that were often the primary evidence that was used to convict these defendants. For decades, activists have organized to expose these torture practices; hold the officers responsible accountable; and seek justice for the survivors of torture.
In 2010, 17 years after Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department, he was found guilty of obstruction of justice and lying about the torture and subsequently sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Yet, justice remained elusive for Burge’s victims who continued to suffer from the trauma of the torture they endured. Over a year and a half ago, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials worked with Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins to introduce the Reparations Ordinance in City Council as a means of offering holistic redress to Burge torture survivors. With this ordinance, we tried to articulate a more meaningful vision of justice by not only seeking financial restitution for the survivors but also a trauma center on the South Side of Chicago that offers counseling and job training for all those who have faced police violence; curriculum in Chicago Public Schools that teaches about Burge torture; free education in the city colleges; a public memorial; and an official apology by the City.
To date, 29 Aldermen, more than half the City Council, have signed on in support of the ordinance. Yet, until recently, the ordinance remained stalled in the Finance Committee without a hearing despite growing support. Finally, in the wake of renewed activism by a coalition of activists, the ordinance was granted a hearing. Dozens of supporters were present at the Finance Committee’s meeting last month when the hearing was announced. Indeed, since last October, reparations supporters of the ordinance have been a regular presence at City Hall. We have staged sing-ins and die-ins in the lobby of City Council chambers, held press conferences announcing developments in the Burge saga, delivered over 35,000 signed signatures on a petition supporting the ordinance to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and set up pop-up memorials and exhibitions in front of the Mayor’s office.
The reverberations of the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson were acutely felt here in Chicago where we have been confronting our city’s own brutal history of police violence. As the mayoral election unfolded, the deafening silence of nearly all of the candidates on issues of police misconduct was not lost on those of us who had been fighting for reparations. If we wanted the candidates to address Burge torture, it would be up to us to make it so.
We called on all of the candidates to support the ordinance and invited them to publicly declare their support at a citywide rally for reparations held on Valentine’s Day, the same day that Burge was released from his prison sentence. Former contender Dock Walls was the only candidate who showed; Chuy Garcia had previously issued a statement of support after multiple appeals by reparations activists; and Bob Fioretti acknowledged his support on the day of a rally at City Hall where activists were specifically calling out Council members who did not support the ordinance. We never heard back from Willie Wilson and only heard from Emanuel via media reports where he repeatedly made evasive and non-committal statements in response to reporters’ questions about the ordinance.
Emboldened by the Black Lives Matter movement, the reparations campaign – with CTJM and our friends at Amnesty International, Project NIA, and We Charge Genocide at the helm – has taken on new life in the last few months. In addition to our visits to City Hall, we have held marches, rallies, and teach-ins in multiple neighborhoods and communities. We have used the power of social media to build public support and we have tweeted thousands of messages to the mayor. We have called, e-mailed and lobbied our City Council through good old-fashioned meetings to discuss the ordinance. We even took our message the mayor’s home one evening, spelling out “REPARATIONS NOW” in bright lights, a creative tactic organized by the Chicago Light Brigade.
From Mayor Emanuel’s doorstep to the last runoff debate, we have insisted that the Reparations Ordinance is one tangible concrete way to show that Black Lives Matter. As we prepare for a public hearing on the ordinance, I am hopeful that we will win a measure of justice for Burge survivors who have already waited too long. Come April 7, I hope we will elect a mayor who is more receptive to the needs of torture survivors and all the people of Chicago. But I know that whoever is in office, reparations activists will continue to insist that the lives of torture survivors matter.
This blog was down for a couple of days because of host site performance issues. It’s back up again thanks to help I received to troubleshoot the problems. Thanks to those who helped me address the issues.
As part of trying to address the problems, I permanently deleted a few recent posts. No worries. One of those was a video about Chicago’s school to prison pipeline that I posted which was recently produced by the young filmmakers at Free Spirit Media.
Regular readers of this blog know that I and many others in Chicago have been engaged in a revived fight to pass a reparations ordinance for Burge police torture survivors.
Over the past few months, there have been protests, social media discussions, meetings, and other actions demanding #ReparationsNOW. Below is a new video edited by Tom Callahan with music by FM Supreme that captures some of the organizing of the past few weeks.
Last week, I stood beside a ‘peace’ table looking into the faces of some young Black men. I’m the featured speaker for a short Black history month program they’ve organized. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. All I know is that I have 5 to 10 minutes to fill. Sister Donna tells me to share inspirational words about Black culture. I’m at a loss. I wish that I had asked more questions about the event in advance. I rack my brain and decide to improvise. I talk about how I became politicized about the criminal punishment system. I tell a story.
As I talk, I stress the importance of affirming that Black is in fact beautiful. I talk a lot about resistance. I look into the eyes of some of the young men standing in a semi circle around me. I wonder if my words resonate. I end my speech with words written by Assata Shakur which have been popularized through the ongoing Black lives matter protests:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
We chant the words in unison. Our voices becoming progressively louder and stronger. I am finished. The young man who had introduced me then asks a question: “What stood out to you from Ms. K’s speech?” He quickly adds: “Or feel free to share any other thoughts.” He points to a talking piece on the ‘peace’ table and I hand it over to the young man to my left who promptly passes it on to the young man next to him like it’s a hot potato.
My stomach drops. I’m now silently dreading the responses. Then the young man holding the talking piece says that he appreciated my emphasis on the need to keep fighting to resist oppression. I feel my shoulders begin to drop from my ears. The tension in my gut dissipates as more people share their comments and thoughts. One young person says that he had never thought to connect Mike Brown’s body lying in the street for hours with lynching. He offered that dead bodies lie for hours in his neighborhood and that he would have a new perspective from now on. Another young man mentioned that he appreciates chanting Assata’s words which he has never heard before. More people speak. One young person says that he thought it was impossible to beat the system but that my opening story made him reconsider.
All of the young Black men in his group have been or are in conflict with the law. The program that they are part of focuses on using restorative justice as the basis for relationship-building and transformation. Some of the young men in the circle wear the blank look of defeat like a second skin. A few words won’t change that, I know. But I hope that a few sparks are ignited. I hope.
As I am driving North leaving Back of the Yards, my phone rings. It’s a voice that I know but can’t place: “It’s Jeff*,” the voice says. I’m taken back 3 years. Suddenly, I’m not in my car but sitting across from Jeff at Burger King. His sister is next to me. We’ve just come from the police station.
Jeff was arrested with a friend for basically being young and Black while standing on the street. When I arrive at the station with his sister, we’re told that he’s being released with an informal station adjustment. Those are still considered arrests that stay on one’s record. When we first see Jeff walking toward us, he appears to have shrunk two inches. Shoulders slumped and head bowed, he’s not looking at us. I ask if he is OK. He mumbles something indecipherable. I ask if he is hungry and he shrugs. I interpret this as a yes. As I stare at him across the table, he too wears the blank look of defeat. I wish that he would show a flash of emotion: anger, sadness, anything. But he just looks so tired, wrung out, resigned. He seems to have no fight left.
Jeff and the young men who I met last week are the victims of a police department in this city that routinely brutalizes and crushes black people. It’s the daily, relentless breaking of spirits and of people that is so routine it doesn’t garner a single paragraph in any local newspaper.
I am so happy to hear Jeff’s voice. I ask how he is doing and he replies: “I wanted to call to say that I’m not broken. I’m OK, Ms. K. I was thinking of you, I think of you often and I wanted you to know. I’m OK.” I’m on Lakeshore Drive and I need to pull over but I can’t. So I just sob on the phone. I tell him that I am so happy to hear his voice and to know that he is OK. We talk for a bit longer and promise to keep in better touch.
Yesterday, I stood in a semi-circle in the Chicago cold listening to mostly young Black people speaking about resilience, struggle, history, rage, and love. I look into their faces and there is no defeat in their eyes. I wish that the young men I spoke to last week were here, standing beside me. I wish they could hear Ethan’s clarion call of resistance. Shut it down, he shouts. We in the crowd yell back, Shut it down. We’ve gathered to protest ongoing Chicago police torture. We’ve come together to demand reparations for Jon Burge’s torture survivors.
This is beautiful resistance. Before we break for the night, we form two circles: one large one and one in the middle made up of those whose voices must be centered in this struggle (young black people, torture survivors, Native Americans, and more). We are holding hands and together we chant:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”