To the editor:

I would like to comment, partially in reaction to John Conroy’s “The Shocking Truth” [January 10], but more in response to John Mayhew’s follow-up letter professing rage at Conroy’s “sympathetic” treatment of the Wilson brothers [January 24].

I, too, am angry, but for altogether different reasons and certainly not at Conroy. I am angry that the police have brutalized people in the black community for years and have gotten away with it, that they have used coercion, and sometimes even torture, to elicit confessions, and that many of their victims have never received justice. Even today, some of the very men who may have had confessions tortured out of them by Jon Burge and others have not been given new trials.

I am also angry with the duplicity on the part of the city. I agree with Mr. Conroy that it is hypocrisy on the part of the state’s attorney’s office and the Police Board to do an about-face on this one particular case, at this late date, while sitting on and covering over numerous other cases and allegations of brutality and miscarriage of justice.

Furthermore, it is difficult to speak of patterns of police and city or state’s attorney abuse in communities of color without indicting the criminal justice system as a whole. In the U.S., black people are seven to eight times more likely to be sent to jail or prison than white people. Racism is clearly involved here. Only consider, for example, that studies of drug-use patterns in black and white communities and of the consequent action taken on the part of the police and the courts show that at every level–arrest, indictment, conviction, and length of sentence–black people are treated far more harshly (at levels way beyond their representation of the population or of their drug use).

Finally, Mr. Mayhew’s comments about a supposed easy life in prison (“The recent Richard Speck revelations make it plain that prison life can be an oasis of pleasure…”) should not pass without comment because they are indicative of the gross misconceptions many people hold about life in prison.

Prisons have never been easy places in which to survive and, in the U.S., they are becoming more and more repressive. In the now 40 or more “control unit” prisons, for example, people are caged like animals in the worst of our zoos. Perhaps more to the point, even in the most lenient prisons, it is not easy to cope because one is dealing with the loss of freedom, family and friends, privacy, and nearly all rights–and one is not living well. Study that part of the state or federal budget allocated to prisoner subsistence. It is bare bones. Or, envision the “ease or joy” of living for years in a barred cell or crowded dorm while following a relentless routine.

The Richard Speck tapes were an anomaly, a tiny slice of the life of one high-profile (and therefore atypical) prisoner, taken out of context. Even at that, just what about life in his forlorn prison cell did the tapes reveal that was so very attractive?

Thank God the Jon Burge case came to see the light of day. Bear in mind that it is just one of many recent cases, here in Illinois and across the country, that have revealed police brutality, planted or covered-up evidence, and mistaken convictions, nearly all involving people of color. Since many of these cases came to light only accidentally, or because of the unusual efforts of private citizens, the still more shocking truth is that many more similar cases have almost certainly occurred but have been successfully hidden.

Tony Hintze

N. Newgard