To the editor:
Congratulations to John Conroy and the Reader for updating the public on the city’s continued efforts to disclaim legal and financial responsibility for Police Commander Jon Burge’s acts of torture against criminal suspects. Conroy’s article, “The Shocking Truth” (January 10), documents the history of the exposure of Burge’s acts by Andrew Wilson’s attorneys at the People’s Law Office with the aid of others willing to commit themselves to the legal campaign.
But Conroy failed to understand or appreciate that the exposure without the political campaign that accompanied it would have been for naught.
Indeed, as Conroy acknowledges, the federal courts, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the state’s attorney, and the police department’s initial responses to the disclosures were to try to deny them and protect Burge. What caused this to change? The answer is simple and clearly documented–political action.
The Task Force to Confront Police Violence, Citizens Alert, and many other individuals and groups initiated a political campaign to force the city to fire Burge. This campaign included demonstrations at Area Three where Burge was employed, City Hall, police headquarters, OPS, and the mayor’s house. After demonstrators disrupted a City Council meeting because Aldermen Mell and Burke had blocked City Council hearings on torture by Burge, they approached the demonstrators and agreed to public hearings on the condition of no more demonstrations at City Council meetings. It was the Task Force to Confront Police Violence that released a worldwide report by Amnesty International condemning Chicago police for torture which was reported by all local TV, radio, and written media. The media exposure was part of the political campaign.
The ongoing and relentless political protest made Burge a political liability for Daley and the police department and created the pressure necessary to get the Police Board to take action and eventually fire Burge. The actions of the political campaign are well documented in the video End of the Nightstick, which was aired nationally on PBS.
Let us not forget that when Burge and other Area Two detectives, O’Hara and Yucaitis, were exposed, 3,000 police officers formed the BOY Committee (Burge, O’Hara, and Yucaitis) and threw a party to honor them at the Teamsters Hall. We held a counter demonstration which garnered much media attention (including a splash on CNN and color photographs in the Tribune and Southtown Economist), and which was necessary to make this BOY party a further embarrassment to the city.
Conroy’s statement that the organizers’ efforts “fell on deaf ears” was only true at the beginning. At the end, Mayor Daley, Superintendent Martin, and the city council were confronted with the Burge issue every time they turned around. After Burge was fired, the Fraternal Order of Police wanted to have a police “float” honoring “police heroes” in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Again, it was the Task Force to Confront Police Violence who exposed this abject desire of the FOP to celebrate torture, which was featured on the front page of the Sun-Times and which ultimately drove the FOP to abandon their scheme. More remarkably, the task force’s efforts to expose the FOP’s torture float were more remarkably acknowledged by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinion, which overturned Burge’s initial district court dismissal from liability, when they went outside the legal record and further condemned the police for torture.
As an activist who worked for four years to expose Burge publicly and get him fired, I know all this was neither an accident, the self-actualizing power of exposure, or the good will of retiring OPS coordinator David Fogel, as Conroy suggests. This cover-up of extreme police misconduct was exposed by voices of opposition. If we do not understand this, we will get the wrong message from the Burge history. We need to honor the efforts of the people who were persistent and militant enough to get these well-entrenched torture artists exposed and fired, and condemn the city and police department who did everything they usually do to foster an environment where this violence is not only covered up but encouraged.
For the Task Force to
Confront Police Violence