Former Chicago Police Department Cmdr. Jon Burge, the man who presided over and orchestrated the state torture and brutalization of hundreds of Black Chicagoans between 1972-1991, died in Florida today, the Chicago Tribune reports. He was 70 years old.
Burge was initiated into the Chicago police department in 1970, promoted to detective in 1972, and worked in supervisory jobs through the mid-1980s. After years of being allowed to terrorize Black Chicago with his “midnight crew” of rogue detectives, known as “Burge’s Asskickers,” Burge was first suspended in 1991, then subsequently fired in 1993, in connection with the torture of Andrew Wilson.
In 1989, Wilson filed a lawsuit against Burge, claiming that Burge—along with several other police officers—had tortured him into confessing to the murders of Chicago police officers William Fahey, 34, and Richard O’Brien, 33, who were shot to death after pulling over Wilson, and his brother Jackie Wilson, during a Feb. 9, 1982 traffic stop.
To get that confession from him, Wilson said that he was “shocked, burned by a radiator, suffocated with a plastic bag, and kicked in the eye and beaten.”
According to the Chicago Reader: Wilson’s public defender Dale Coventry “had photos of a huge burn on his client’s thigh, parallel burns on his chest, and strange U-shaped puncture marks on his nose and ears. Wilson said the marks came from alligator clips attached to wires leading to a hand-cranked electrical device. He said Burge shocked him on his genitals and his back with a second device that resembled a curling iron.
Andrew and Jackie Wilson were both sentenced to death in 1983, but the Illinois Supreme Court overturned their convictions in 1987, determining that their confessions had been coerced. Andrew Wilson was retried in 1988, found guilty of both murders, and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole, the Chicago Tribune reports. At Jackie Wilson’s retrial in 1989, during which his attorney argued that Wilson should not have been prosecuted with his brother, a jury acquitted him of Fahey’s murder but convicted him of O’Brien’s.
The brothers were both sentenced to life in prison at Ill.’s Menard Correctional Center, Chicago Reader reports.
On January 10, 2003, then Gov. George Ryan responded to the consistent public outcry over the torture being inflicted on Chicago’s predominately Black South Side by pardoning 4 victims of Burge’s Area 2 Crime Unit.
During a 2003 civil trial stemming from the rampant torture allegations—after the statute of limitations for criminal charges had passed—Burge stated that he had never participated in, nor witnessed torture during his time on the Chicago police force. In 2007, Andrew Wilson died in prison.
In 2010, Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for obstruction of justice and perjuring himself during the 2003 trial, the New York Times reports. In 2018, after serving 36 years in prison, Jackie Wilson was released on his own recognizance after Judge William Hooks determined that Burge and detectives under his command had physically coerced his confession. Wilson remains free as he awaits a new trial, CBS Chicago reports.
There have been multiple lawsuits and complaints against Burge and his co-conspirators over the years. Darrell Cannon, one of the men tortured during Burge’s tenure, likened his experience to being tortured by “a New Wave Klan” who “wore badges, instead of sheets.”
According to Amnesty International, between the years 1972 and 1991, an estimated 120 Black men endured “electric shocks to the genitals and other body parts, suffocation, mock executions and beatings—all of which often accompanied by racial slurs, hurled by all white detectives.” The University of Chicago puts the number of Black men tortured at 135.
In May 2015, Chicago’s City Council unanimously passed a reparations package (pdf) that included a $5.5 million fund for Black people who were tortured in police custody during Burge’s time in office.
“The passage of Burge torture-reparations legislation in Chicago … is owed to decades of previous organizing and a recent concerted, strategic six-month intergenerational and interracial campaign led by four main groups: Amnesty International, CTJM, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide,” said Mariame Kaba, director of Project NIA and a member of We Charge Genocide, at the time. “A number of factors led to the successful outcome, including a hotly contested mayoral election, a strategic focus on both inside and outside organizing, and a climate of protest sparked this August by the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson.
“The national #BlackLivesMatter protests lent urgency to a struggle that has been decades in the making,” she continued. Chicago’s reparations ordinance is something that social-justice activists and community leaders have been working tirelessly toward since 2013.
Click here to read the University of Chicago’s Chicago Torture Archive, a massive collection—made possible by the People’s Law Office—of interrogations, criminal and civil-litigation documents, works of journalism, and records of activism in connection with and sparked by the CPD torture cases documented between 1972 and 1991.