Saturday, January 22, 2011

He's Sorry, Alright

Last Sunday, I wrote about White violence against people of color. This week's news has been full of stories about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who offers a stellar example of just what I was writing about.

I don't remember when I first became aware of Burge. It was some time ago. And I was disgusted.

As a Chicago Police Department Detective and Commander in the 1970's and 1980's, Burge, now 63, oversaw the torture of more than 200 Black and Latino "suspects" (one as young as 13-years-old and all of whom "confessed" to the crimes with which they were charged), using techniques that included, but were not limited to the repeated use of a stun gun; hitting the victim in the head with a telephone book; applying electrical current to the victim's anus or genitals using a cattle prod, violet wand or antique crank telephone; putting plastic bags over the victim's head so he couldn't breathe; burning him with cigarettes or hair dryers; and putting a gun in his mouth, all of which are methods of physical and psychological torment that leave few if any scars.

Burge has cost the taxpayers a total (so far) of more than $40 million to pay for investigations, settlements to some of the tortured, and (get this) the multiple millions the city of Chicago has had to pay for his defense in court because their policy is to protect their own -- no matter what. Burge left the Illinois criminal justice system so fractured that former Governor George Ryan ultimately commuted the sentences of all the men on death row and pardoned four of them completely in 2000 rather than risk executing a man whose conviction had been similarly achieved. And Burge perjured himself repeatedly in court about what he had done, despite the evidence and the consistency of testimony against him (including that of other officers).

Yet, when he was fired in February of 1993 -- for lying, because the crimes for which he was being investigated had passed the statute of limitations -- this man was allowed to move to Apollo Beach, Florida, where he started up a fishing business using his $30,000 per year pension (totaling to date yet another half million tax dollars).

Last June, due to the dogged determination of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Jon Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. He could have been sentenced to as much as thirty years in prison, but yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow only sentenced him to serve four and one-half years. Lefkow was concerned about his physical weakness, inviting him to sit while she made her sentencing statement. She was concerned that he be able to maintain ties to his family, promising to send him to do his time some place close to his home in Florida. She was concerned about his alcohol abuse and agreed to mandate treatment for addiction while he was in custody. That's a lot of consideration for a cold-blooded terrorist who has never even admitted his guilt and was said to laugh while he did his work.

Sending him to prison at this late date does absolutely nothing to change the nightmares Black men and their families still endure, I'm certain, as a result of all the crimes this man committed while wearing a badge and a gun. So in the end, I'm not sorry he's being punished, but I'm not impressed either. And one of the reasons is that when he was asked for a statement, Jon Burge apologized. To the Chicago Police Department. Not to the men and boys he tortured. Not to the Black citizens of Chicago he and his midnight marauders terrorized for twenty years. Not to the twenty-five men who are still incarcerated in Illinois for crimes to which they "confessed" under torture at Burge's hand. Not to the people whose lives he ruined and the families he shattered and the mothers whose hearts he broke. But to his fellow officers for "bringing the department into disrepute."

And this is what you get when you put a young man -- still in his teens -- through "interrogation" training at the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The School (which responded to international protest against its activities by changing its name in 2000 to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) is infamous all over Central and South America for the unmitigated lawlessness of the people it trains in psychological and physical torture. Jon Burge was trained there as a young Army recruit. Since the School trains fewer than 2000 soldiers per year and he was in the military during the Vietnam War era when those that didn't sign up were drafted, there must have been something very "special" about Burge that he was chosen to be one of them.

While the victims keep coming forward to sue the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department, Jon Burge, his buddies, and anybody else who can be deemed responsible, I suggest they pull the School where he learned his trade into the loop, as well. Terrorists, would-be-terrorists, and even somebody who said something that could be construed as supportive of terrorists get a lot of negative attention these days in the United States. Shouldn't those that train them share that spotlight? The School that trained Burge should get all the credit they're due. Don't you think?

Melvin Jones, Mark Clements, and Marvin Reeves -- 3 of Burge's torture victims


Blaque Ink said...

The asd part about this is that Jon Burge is only given a four-and-a-half year sentence along with other privileges.

Blaque Ink said...

I'm sorry. I mistyped sad in my response.

bill said...

Rebecca, I first saw your story on RSN. Thank you for writing this. I hope you will take a few minutes and read about my personal story with FBI and police with a google search for "Historic cover-up of FBI and police crimes currently taking place" on the Urban 75 message board. As an added bonus, you will get to read FBI agents best efforts to discredit me on the thread. Bill Anderson

Changeseeker said...

The sad part to me, Blaque, is that in so many cases where White men have done horrific things to people of color, even when they finally get "brought to justice" (ha!), they're about to die anyway. The message this sends, of course, is that IF you're willing to do something like this, the society will allow you to live out your whole life just as if nothing ever happened. And then at the last minute, we'll all pretend that justice has been served. Sigh.

Bill: I'll certainly check out your story. Thanks for stopping by.