What Will Become of Quigley North?

Nobody enjoys an urban environment piecemeal, but that’s how battles to protect it wind up being fought. Today’s battle in the near north is over the Hotel Saint Benedict Flats on Chicago Avenue. Tomorrow’s might be at Quigley Seminary North a block away.

In the uproar over Cardinal Bernardin’s decision to close Quigley South, one key element of his plans was largely obscured. Consolidating the two prep seminaries at Quigley North for a year is merely a holding action. It gives the archdiocese time to look for a new permanent location and figure out what to do with its valuable property at Rush and Chestnut, just a half block from Michigan Avenue.

The worst but most commercial thing that could happen to the half-square-block of low Gothic buildings is that they would all come down, including the chapel–assuming a demolition crew could be put together with the stomach to raze it. Gustave Steinback’s replica of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is one of Chicago’s little-known glories. “The cardinal would have a very hard time seeing that chapel face the wrecking ball,” an archdiocesan spokesman told us.

But the chapel is merely one of Quigley’s four wings. The Very Reverend Thomas Franzman, rector of Quigley, told us that Loyola University across the street wants to buy the seminary and expand into it. But the archdiocese needs lots of money. “Doing other things I’m sure would be financially better than selling it to Loyola,” Franzman said. He said calls from developers who want to do other things have been pouring into the chancery.

One idea is to tear down everything but the chapel and put up the usual 40 or 50 stories of mammon. But Franzman says it might be possible to compromise.

Architect Daniel Coffey, who specializes in historic structures, dropped by Quigley the other day. Franzman said Coffey suggested “we put a tower up over the gym wing, the Chestnut Street wing. We’d put legs through the interior of that wing, and some other supports would wind up in the courtyard, and we could build a 40-story structure above it.” Quigley would occupy the first five or six floors and stay where it is. “The rest of it might be residential or hotel space, something like that. It would ultimately fund the school.”

So that’s what the future looks like for one of the most serene and historic places on the near north side. Possibly demolition, possibly 40 floors of commerce overhead.

We’ve been warned.

Silent Screams

Four weeks ago, the Reader ran a long cover story by John Conroy titled “House of Screams.” The subject of the article was police torture. “I found it absolutely fascinating,” says Marjory Byler, who is midwest director of Amnesty International. She faxed the article to AI’s world headquarters in London.

“House of Screams” was not London’s first notice from Chicago. For the past year, material had been coming in from the People’s Law Office, a small group of attorneys long identified with contentious civil rights cases.

But until Conroy’s article arrived, the Chicago file languished unread. Now Mandy Bath, AI’s acting researcher on the United States, picked up the file; when she finished examining it she took the first step in an AI inquiry: she began to compose a letter to Attorney General Neil Hartigan as “the highest legal officer in the state.”

The letter, signed by Secretary General Ian Martin of Amnesty International, should be arriving in Springfield just about now. Bath was reluctant to discuss the contents, but she told us that among the matters AI wants to learn more about are the investigative procedures of the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards.

It appears, she said, after reading AI’s Chicago file, “that people have filed complaints, including quite well documented ones [against the Police Department], and their complaints have been dismissed.”

When Conroy’s article appeared, Hot Type waited for repercussions. Superb journalism is sometimes an end in itself, but not this time; Chicago deserved a prompt and thorough investigation into the allegations that Conroy amassed. Specifically, this media columnist wondered if the daily papers, which can swing a cudgel with such persistence when it suits them, would demand that a light be shone on the shadowy doings inside a south-side police house.

Well, they didn’t. If the torture of suspects was the practice at Area 2 for several years running, from the dailies’ news pages, from the editorial pages, from the hard-hitting columnists there came not a peep of concern.

At the center of Conroy’s article was the tale told by a black man named Andrew Wilson arrested in 1982 for shooting two white policemen. His allegations echoed those of “a parade of men”–Conroy’s words–whose individual tales of abuse “kept pointing to the same police station and the same group of officers.”

The police station was the old Area 2 headquarters at 91st and Cottage Grove, the officers the violent-crimes unit under the command of Lieutenant Jon Burge. Represented by the People’s Law Office, Wilson sued Burge, some other officers, and the city. Conroy wrote that Wilson complained of receiving “burns and electric shock, the shock delivered by two different devices affixed to his genitals, his ears, his nose, and his fingers” while in custody at Area 2. According to that parade of other men turned up by Wilson’s lawyers, they too received electroshock, “or had plastic bags put over their heads, or had their fingers put in bolt cutters, or were threatened with being thrown off a roof” during interrogations that spanned a decade.

Thanks to the judge, the jury that resolved Wilson’s civil suit last year was kept ignorant of virtually all of these other complaints. Even so, the jurors agreed that there was an unwritten policy in effect at the time of Wilson’s arrest that allowed police to abuse suspected cop killers, and that Wilson’s constitutional rights were violated on the day he was arrested. Quixotically, they concluded that Wilson was not subjected to excessive force as a result of this policy, and thus ruled in favor of Burge and his subordinates.

It was a verdict that the Police Department would not dare call a clean bill of health.

One of the advantages a torturer enjoys is the reluctance of everyone other than his victims to believe that torture has occurred. Americans associate torture with places like Argentina; no doubt Argentines for some time supposed such things occurred only in places like Uganda.

Police brutality is another matter; in the heat of the moment–as when a fellow officer has been gunned down–we half expect our guardians to play rough. But torture is premeditated. Torture is pseudoscience. Torture is using an apparatus such as an alligator clip with some measure of finesse and familiarity.

Marjory Byler explained the distinction as Amnesty International makes it. “We define torture as the use of excessive force during interrogations carried out by official representatives of police forces, security forces, or the military,” she said. “Usually with the collusion of or some amount of awareness by government. This is to separate it from police brutality, which is widespread but which Amnesty doesn’t work on.”

As a journalist, we would define serious allegations of police torture as a big, big local story. But it’s a story a newspaper might not want to touch.

At the time “House of Screams” appeared, the Sun-Times was in the midst of an excellent series on the miserable performance of the Office of Professional Standards. OPS figured in Conroy’s account, having performed a desultory investigation of Wilson’s complaint. It would have been a small stretch to seize on the torture issue; and later we asked one of the authors of the OPS series, Charles Nicodemus, why the Sun-Times hadn’t made it.

“I don’t know that the Sun-Times follows up projects in other publications,” Nicodemus told us. He surmised that the Sun-Times’s editors probably concluded that their paper already had pursued Wilson’s allegations “sufficiently for their needs and tastes, or the needs and tastes of our readers.”

He was being ironic. “Sufficiently” meant hardly at all. Wilson’s two civil trials were scarcely media events. Conroy pointed out that federal building reporters neglected the first, which ended in a hung jury, to concentrate on the glamorous criminal trial of sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom. The second trial last summer “passed completely unnoticed but for the verdict.”

Nicodemus told us that if the Sun-Times had felt like reacting to Conroy’s piece, the editorial page would have been the likeliest place to do so. But we’d already talked to the editor of that page, Ray Coffey.

“I’m not running any editorials about anything in the Reader,” said Coffey.

At the Tribune, editor Jack Fuller expressed his admiration for John Conroy; but three weeks after it ran he hadn’t finished Conroy’s article. Clarence Page was tempted to do a Channel Five commentary; but he was leaving town, and two weeks later “it wasn’t as timely as it might have been.”

So it goes. To detect a hue and cry, you had to know where to look. The Chicago Coalition to End Police Torture and Brutality is a small coalition of neighborhood and political action groups that has been badgering the Police Board since last summer to suspend Burge and seriously investigate the allegations that he’s a torturer.

Mary Powers, director of Citizens Alert, the police watchdog group that organized the coalition, distributed copies of Conroy’s article prior to the February Police Board meeting, which was attended by the usual smattering of activists who took turns standing to make fervid, clumsy speeches demanding action. The board listened politely. President Albert Maule reminded his audience that the board is not an investigative body. Everyone filed out unsatisfied.

We wondered if the papers would cover this meeting. They did not.

It is far too early to say what Amnesty International will wind up making of the situation in Chicago. Its power is the power to embarrass. Conceivably, a year or two from now AI will issue a report on torture worldwide asserting that one of the places you might find it is Chicago.

That will make news somewhere, possibly even here.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.