Chicago will pay a total of up to $5.5 million to dozens of people tortured by the city’s police in the 1970s and 1980s and make other reparations such as a memorial to torture victims under an ordinance approved by the city council on Wednesday.
“We are strong enough to say we were wrong,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after the vote. “Chicago will finally confront its past and come to terms with it.”
The ordinance also calls for the city to provide psychological counseling, job placement aid and other services to torture victims.
Chicago and Cook County already have paid about $100 million in settlements and verdicts for lawsuits related to disgraced former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge, who was fired in 1993 and later convicted of lying about police torture in testimony he gave in civil lawsuits.
Most of the victims of Burge’s rogue detective group were African-American men, and a number of them were at the city council meeting on Wednesday.
Victims and their families and supporters – wearing “Reparations Now” T-shirts – stood and applauded the council’s unanimous vote on the reparations. One man sobbed.
“Chicago has taken a historic step to show the country, and the world, that there should be no expiration date on reparations for crimes as heinous as torture,” Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
Hawkins said the ordinance will help set a precedent for holding torturers accountable in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States.
Under the new law, Chicago’s public schools will develop a curriculum on the legacy of police torture in the city and teach it to seventh graders.
The reparations package was developed with representatives of Burge’s victims, Amnesty International, the mayor and aldermen.
Victims’ lawyers estimate that 120 people were tortured by Burge and his detectives but some of them have since died. Under the new measure, reparations from the $5.5 million approved on Wednesday would not be available for victims who have already had payouts from the city in civil lawsuits, but several dozen victims probably will be eligible, according to one of the lawyers.
Chicago has long struggled to build trust between police and minority communities. The approval of the reparations comes at a time of increased scrutiny on police use of force in the United States, particularly against minorities.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Will Dunham)