Nearly 30 years after he electrocuted a Black man during an interrogation and tortured many others, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge was found guilty Monday of obstruction of justice and perjury.
Burge, 62, was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 after a report from the Office of Professional Standards called for sustaining the accusations of excessive abuse against him. Burge and more than 30 other officers under his purview had allegedly tortured Black men routinely through the 1970s and 1980s. They suffocated victims and cattle prodded more than 200 suspects in Chicago’s Area 2 violent-crimes unit to extract confessions.
Though there had been reports of misconduct at Area 2 as early as 1984, Burge was simply transferred out of his department and promoted to commander four years later. It wasn’t until 1989 that Burge finally faced trial–one where he hired private lawyers financed by the city of Chicago and which ended in a mistrial. The case was revisited in 2006, when special prosecutors released a report that found that there was evidence that Burge and the Area 2 officers had indeed employed torture tactics to force confessions; by the time the report was released, however, the statute of limitations on those charges had long passed.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Burge was indicted for lying in a 2003 civil case. "If Al Capone went down for taxes, it’s better than him going down for nothing," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at the time.
Area 2 covers a broad section of the city’s southwest side–neighborhoods that are home mostly to Blacks–and the men that Burge and his cronies tortured were all Black. These forced confessions–sometimes the sole pieces of evidence in their trials–sent dozens of wrongly convicted men of color to prison for decades for crimes ranging from larceny to murder. After law students at Northwestern and the University of Chicago called for the exoneration of several death row inmates, former Illinois governor George Ryan halted executions in Illinois based on overwhelming evidence that the state’s penal system had suffered from irrevocable and irreversible misconduct.
When Burge is sentenced on November 5, he’ll face up to 45 years in the same prison system where he sent dozens of men throughout his career.
Photo: Creative Commons/caribb