Standing in a corner of the newly opened Chicago Torture Justice Center on Friday, Darrell Cannon quietly recalled the details of his experience with Chicago police detectives almost 34 years ago.
How they questioned him — about a murder he had no role in — for more than eight hours, from 6:30 a.m. to 3 in the afternoon, he said. How they pressed an electric cattle prod to his testicles, he added. How Cannon had to falsely confess to his involvement and face a murder conviction that would later be overturned, because by the time the torture had ended Cannon couldn't even recite his own name, he said.
"I continue to live this hell. Everyday. I stay mad. People say that I should not be mad, that I should let God handle it," said Cannon, who spent 24 years in prison before the murder charges against him were dropped. His eyes turned red with tears. "But I'm a human being, and as long as I have breath in my body, I'm gonna stay mad."
Cannon, 66, suffered at the hands of the former police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who with his so-called midnight crew of rogue detectives allegedly tortured upward of 100 people, many of them African-American men from the South Side, in efforts to extract confessions from them between early 1972 and late 1991.
Accusations against Burge began to surface when former Mayor Richard M. Daley was state's attorney. The controversy lasted for decades as the city fought the torture claims. So far, it has cost the city more than $100 million in lawsuit settlements, judgments and other costs.
But in May 2015, the City Council moved to acknowledge the victims by approving a $5.5 million reparations package, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel said showed Chicago wanted to deal with a dark chapter in its history and that the behavior wouldn't be tolerated in the future.
Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge was convicted in 2010 on all three counts of obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about police torture. Special prosecutors had alleged that Burge led the torture of criminal suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions that put some of...
Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge was convicted in 2010 on all three counts of obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about police torture. Special prosecutors had alleged that Burge led the torture of criminal suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions that put some of...Read more stories
The ordinance paved the way for Friday's opening of the torture justice center in Englewood, which aims to provide mental health and case management services to an estimated 60 remaining Burge torture victims, including about 20 who are still in prison, as well as community members affected by police violence. It is the first such center in the country, its director and staff said.
For victims like Cannon, who is serving as the center's outreach director, the opening stirred painful memories. "No one should have to go through hell in order to bring about a measure of justice," he said. "This center is something that should never have to come about."
The center, which sits inside the Englewood Neighborhood Health Clinic at 63rd Street and Lowe Avenue, will provide individual and group therapy to anyone who feels they need healing services or legal assistance resulting from police misconduct. There is no criteria to qualify for those services, staff members said, and anyone who feels they have a case of police brutality is welcome to walk in.
"Our door is open to anyone who feels like egregious wrong has been done to them," Cannon said.
Policy brutality continues to be an issue in Chicago even as the Burge era has receded into the past.
A U.S. Department of Justice report released in January concluded that the city's police officers are poorly trained and quick to turn to excessive and even deadly force, most often against blacks and Latino residents, without facing consequences. The report cited problems that have for decades been the focus of complaints from citizens, lawsuits and news investigations.
Burge victims said the reparations have been long in coming and say they are grateful for the center's opening. When Chicago passed the 2015 ordinance, it became the first municipality in the country to pay reparations for such police misconduct, lawyers involved in the negotiations said.
Burge and the detectives under his command had used electric shock, suffocation and even Russian roulette to coerce confessions from dozens of black suspects, special Cook County prosecutors concluded after a four-year investigation.
The ordinance included the creation of a permanent memorial recognizing the victims and ensured that eighth- and 10th-grade students attending Chicago Public Schools would be taught about the Burge case and its legacy.
The center is funded mostly by the Chicago Department of Public Health, said its executive director, Christine Haley. It is also funded in part by the Crossroads Fund and the Polk Brothers Foundation.
Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, former chairman of the council's black caucus, told reporters Friday that during the Burge era detectives would play a game of "eeny meeny miny moe," charging "anyone they could catch" with a crime in order to curb crime statistics. The result was unsolved crimes and residents' distrust of police, he said.
Almost 30 years later, he said, the community still sees the impact "a few bad officers" have on an entire community.
"So today we're closing, partially closing, this sad chapter of the city's life," he said. "Where whoever you could pick to put the crime on was the person who did it, while the real people who perpetrated those crimes remained in our community."
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