CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago's leaders took a step Wednesday typically reserved for nations trying to make amends for slavery or genocide, agreeing to pay $5.5 million in reparations to the mostly African-American victims of the city's notorious police torture scandal and to teach schoolchildren about one of the most shameful chapters of Chicago's history.
Chicago has already spent more than $100 million settling and losing lawsuits related to the torture of suspects by detectives under the command of disgraced former police commander Jon Burge from the 1970s through the early 1990s. The city council's backing of the new ordinance marks the first time a U.S. city has awarded survivors of racially motivated police torture the reparations they are due under international law, according to Amnesty International.
"It is a powerful word and it was meant to be a powerful word. That was intentional," Alderman Joe Moore said of the decision to describe it as reparations.
Before the council unanimously backed the deal, the names of more than a dozen victims were called out, and those men and their families were given a standing ovation.
"This stain cannot be removed from our city's history, but it can be used as a lesson in what not to do," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stressed that Chicago had to do more than just pay the victims if it is to really get beyond this stain on its history.
"While the payment is important ... it cannot stand alone, it has to stand associated with and part of a city that will say it's sorry, it's wrong when it's wrong, and we need to right a wrong when we find it," he said.
Each of the approximately 80 victims will be eligible to receive up to $100,000 of the money. In addition, the ordinance calls for the council to issue a formal apology, for the construction of a memorial to the victims and for the police torture scandal to be added to the city's school history curriculum. Victims will receive psychological counseling and free tuition at some community colleges and, in recognition of the lasting damage the torture did to the victims and their families, some of the benefits will be available to victims' children and grandchildren.
Beryl Satter, a Rutgers University-Newark professor who wrote "Family Properties: How the Struggle over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America," said she believes the non-fiscal elements of the new ordinance have made Chicago a national leader.
"To put it in the public realm in the way they have is a very positive thing," Satter said.
The treatment of blacks by the police — and black men, in particular — has gushed to the forefront of the national conscience over the past year.
Will Porch, who spent nearly 15 years in prison for a robbery after he says he was tortured into giving a false confession, said that although he's pleased he might receive money under the new ordinance, the apology and other actions the city is taking are just as important, particularly outside of Chicago.
"Going forward for other cities and other states, now they have a template of what to do," Porch said.