Fighting for Burge torture victims

January 27, 2010

SHOCKED AND AMAZED as he was released on January 14, 2010, Chicago police torture victim Michael Tillman walked out of the Cook County court building in Chicago a free man at last.

Tillman is one of almost 200 African American and Latino men who allege that they were beaten and tortured by detectives who worked under former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who was fired in 1993 for his acts of torture on Andrew and Jackie Wilson in the early 1980s. In 1993, and again in 2006, it was learned that Burge and a group of detectives that worked under his command indeed had beaten and tortured suspects into making incriminating confessions against their will.

Tillman, now 43 years old, was convicted in a 1987 trial for the 1986 rape and murder of Betty Howard. He was sentenced to natural life in prison. At the time he was arrested, he was 20 years old. Court documents reveal he was beaten with a phone book, punched in the face and stomach until he vomited blood, had a plastic bag put over his head and pop poured into his nose until he agreed to confess to a crime in that he did not commit.

These claims are all-too-common when it comes to the cases that Jon Burge and his detectives were assigned to--some of Chicago's most violent crimes that occurred on the South and West Sides. Tillman is the fourth Chicago police torture victim to be released within the past six months. In July, Ronnie Kitchen and Marvin Reeves were released. In August, I was released at age 44, after 28 years in prison. I was beaten and tortured by detectives at the Area Three violent crimes unit.

A group of college students working with the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which has recently formed an innocence project under my coordination, are combing through some of those torture cases in which men remain incarcerated. We are performing hard-nosed "teeth-by-teeth" investigations.

People such as Stanley Wrice and Antonio Nicholas should not be incarcerated. Those men were beaten and tortured by police, and tricked into repeating confessions told to them. This conduct is illegal and should be further exposed. Where is the Constitution for the poor?

Innocent people today sit behind prison walls with silent voices because people who are in position to help them have ignored them. Tillman is a free man today, with many struggles ahead, but thank God he is no longer an Illinois state inmate.
Mark Clements, Chicago

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