New Online Archive Documents Years of Police Torture Under Jon Burge

Jon Burge (WTTW News)Jon Burge (WTTW News)

It’s been nearly three decades since Jon Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department, but a new archive unveiled Wednesday is documenting the years of “violence and terror” carried out against dozens of police torture survivors.

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The Invisible Institute, a journalism nonprofit based on the city’s South Side, published the Chicago Police Torture Archive, an online “human rights documentation of former police Cmdr. Jon Burge’s violence against more than 100 Black men, from the 1970s to the 1990s.”

"This archive documents the persistence of civil rights and defense attorneys, activists, and journalists in wringing a trickle of justice in the torture cases and in holding the City to account," said journalist John Conroy, a contributor to the archive project who helped bring light to Burge’s actions with his reporting in the early 1990s.

The website includes interviews with several of Burge’s victims, as well as a timeline of abuse and more than 100,000 pages of case documents detailing the allegations against Burge and his “Midnight Crew.”

“I screamed and screamed and screamed, but it didn’t do any good,” Darrell Cannon, a Burge victim, said in an interview on the site while recounting detectives using a cattle prod on his genitals. “And finally I got to the point where I couldn’t take any more electroshocks and I told them that I would say anything they wanted me to say.”

The confession Cannon gave, to a murder he didn’t commit, was used to help secure his conviction. He spent nearly 24 years in prison before he was exonerated and released in 2007.

Darrell Cannon, one of the Burge torture victims, speaks before the Chicago City Council in 2015. (WTTW News)Darrell Cannon, one of the Burge torture victims, speaks before the Chicago City Council in 2015. (WTTW News)

Conroy’s 1990 Chicago Reader piece titled “House of Screams” identified Burge as the “perpetrator-in-chief” behind a torture ring at the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 headquarters.

Burge was eventually suspended and fired in the early 1990s, and was arrested on obstruction and perjury charges in 2008, eventually receiving a 4 1/2-year prison sentence.

He was released from prison in 2014 and died four years later at the age of 70, having never been tried for any of the torture allegations, as the statute of limitations on those crimes had expired.

In 2015, the city passed a $5.5 million reparations package for torture survivors, with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel calling Burge’s actions a “disgrace.”

The Invisible Institute said the archive remains a work in progress, with future plan add additional materials and profile more police torture survivors. The group will also track how well the city follows through on that reparations package, saying that to date, it has not honored all of its terms.

“The era of torture did not start with the Burge crew,” Invisible Institute executive editors Alison Flowers and Jamie Kalven wrote on the archive site. “It did not end with the Burge crew. In fact, it was not an era at all. The legacy of torture persists to this day.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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