By Araz Hachadourian
In 2005 Standish Willis, a lawyer from Chicago, was home with a broken ankle. He was working on the case of a man who claimed that, years ago, he had been tortured by police. On the radio in the background, President George Bush argued that the U.S. military’s actions in Abu Ghraib did not constitute torture. That’s when Willis had an idea: “We could make the torture case international, and embarrass the United States.”
On May 6, after decades of lobbying, international intervention, and grassroots organizing, Chicago became the first U.S. city to offer reparations to victims of police violence. From 1972-1991 more than 110 mostly African American men were tortured into confessions by Jon Burge, a police lieutenant, and his subordinates.
Last week’s success comes 21 years after Burge was fired for his misconduct.
“The city had lived so comfortably with the torture for so long that I thought not much could disturb that,” said John Conroy, a former reporter who first covered police torture in Chicago 25 years ago.
Conroy heard about the movement to bring reparations in 2010, but didn’t think it would be successful. “I think it can be safely said that millions of people in this city have known for at least 22 years that the torture occurred,” he said. “But there has never been a palpable atmosphere of outrage.”