Why is Burge free while his victims suffer?

October 9, 2014

Chicago police torture victim Mark Clements was 16 years old when he was arrested and charged with a crime that would land him in prison for 28 years in prison before he was finally freed. Now exonerated and a leading activist against the criminal injustice system as a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, he comments on the release of the man in charge of abusing him.

THE LEADER of the Chicago police torturers is free after serving less than four years in prison--while some of his victims still sit in prison. Former Commander Jon Burge was released from a federal prison in Florida earlier this month on perjury charges connected to the torture.

From the 1970s until the early 1990s, Burge and his subordinates, better known as "The Midnight Crew," tortured more than 200 African American and Latino suspects in an attempt to extract confessions from them. The confessions, made under unthinkable acts of coercion, were used to convict them and send them to prison, some to death row.

Burge learned his torture techniques while serving in the Vietnam War. After he left the military, he joined the Chicago Police Department, and it became hell on earth to anyone interrogated under his command. The torture continued until it was exposed because of the case of two brothers, Andrew and Jackie Wilson, who were accused of shooting two police officers. The convictions of the two men were overturned--in Andrew's case, his death sentence was thrown out by the Illinois Supreme Court on the grounds that he had been tortured into confessing.

Jon Burge
Jon Burge

Investigations by opponents of police brutality and civil rights advocates, including the People's Law Office, revealed a pattern of torture to gain confessions. Among the techniques used were an electrical shock box that sent an electrical current attached to the suspects' genitals; suffocation with plastic typewriter covers and plastics bags; rape with a cattle pod; beatings with telephone books; waterboarding; and all kinds of verbal abuse, especially racial epithets.

These findings were confirmed by an investigation by the Chicago Police Department's own Office of Professional Standards--Burge was fired, and two of his associated were suspended.

But even after this, the Cook County District Attorney's office resisted all attempts by torture victims to challenge their convictions. Prosecutors claimed the men sent to prison by Burge were only saying what they did to escape charges for serious crimes.

In 2006, a Cook County special prosecutor's report was released, which concluded that Burge and his subordinates had tortured suspects to gain confessions. However, Burge could not be charged nor tried at this point, because the statute of limitations had expired. As a result, neither Burge nor his crew of torturers ever faced a judge on criminal charges.

Meanwhile, more and more prisoners were exonerated after showing that they had been tortured into confessing. In 2003, four members of the Death Row 10--prisoners on Illinois' death row who were sent there by Burge and his torturers--were pardoned by then-Gov. George Ryan after he was convinced that they were innocent and only in prison because of a coerced confession obtained by Burge and the Midnight Crew.

But once again, Cook Country prosecutors--following after the example set by Richard Daley, who was District Attorney at the time some of the tortures took place, and who was mayor as the Burge scandal unraveled--resisted appeals from torture victims.

In 2008, Burge was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in federal court documents about the torture cases. He was found guilty in 2010 and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Many of his victims still behind bars felt this would help them prove their claims that they were tortured, but their appeals were still blocked.

BURGE IS free from prison and is still receiving his pension "earned" while he was torturing people of color. Meanwhile, a number of his victims still sit behind the walls of Illinois prisons, wondering if they will die there.

Curtistine Deloney, the mother of imprisoned torture victim Javan Deloney, said those in charge should feel ashamed for making her son wait to receive a hearing on his claim of torture. "He is innocent, so why must he wait so long for justice?" she asked. This has been the cry of many other relatives of torture victims, like Jeanette Plummer, the mother of Johnny Plummer, as well as community activists.

When will they say that enough is enough! The Chicago Police Department's own investigation revealed that the men were tortured. A Cook County special prosecutor's report confirmed these claims. Burge was convicted in federal court because he lied about the torture of criminal suspects. Yet not all of the torture victims have been able to win a hearing before a judge.

In 2010, I stood before the Chicago media and claimed victory after Burge was convicted. I felt we had finally gotten the rat.

Watching Burge in the hot seat during the trial brought back the dark nightmares I had to face at age 16, after being arrested for a crime that I didn't commit. I was tortured by a detective into repeating a confession to four murders. I had my genitals grabbed and squeezed, I was beaten, and I was called a nigger boy. That confession was enough to convict me and get me a sentence of natural life--I was sent to prison as a child, to die in there.

I must admit that I feel cheated, though not defeated. Before I was finally freed, I lost 28 years of my life that I will never be able to get back. I lost my experiences in society. Most of all, I lost 28 years of a productive life with my mother, Virginia Clements, who died in 2011, and with my daughter, Tameka Lee, who is 33 years old today.

Did my incarceration or that of the other innocent men deter crime? Or did it create a monstrous crime in the communities we were kidnapped from. Burge is free--while his victims still suffer inside Illinois prisons.

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