Friday, July 21, 2006

Chicago: City on the Lake, City on the Take

55 years ago Nelson Algren famously called Chicago 'city on the make'. Others quip that Chicago's motto is not actually 'urbs in hortis' ('city in a garden') but 'manus lavat manum' ('one hand washes the other'). That Chicago is corrupt is a 'dog-bites-man' flavour of truism -- no news there.

And although corruption is deplorable, I am also willing to admit that there are varieties of corruption, not all equally awful. Chicago, in fact, despite the rife corruption, is a very livable, green, thriving city, and in many ways has undergone a renaissance in the last 15 years or so. No one would compare the corruption of Chicago with, say, the corruption of a South American right-wing dictator: frankly, we are much more skilled and subtle at it -- and while the politicians enrich themselves and their friends, they generally do it while also serving the people.
But crooked cops are something else, a vile social evil that cannot be tolerated.

(I should say that the policemen that I have known have been hardworking folks who put their lives on the line to protect the innocent, who are not afraid to be unpopular to do the right thing, and who lend nobility to the shield that they wear. This isn't an anti-police screed.)

It has now been proven, after a $6 million (£3.2 million), 4 year investigation, that over two decades certain police officers routinely tortured suspects. The following comes from The Chicago Tribune (here, registration may be needed):

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge led the torture of criminal suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions with fists, kicks, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, bags over the head and electric shock to the genitals, special prosecutors charged Wednesday.
This was the opening sentence in the article. And when I read it I had to go back and check the date and headline, because it sounded just like the tactics of right wing dictator General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, who is responsible for his regime 'disappearing' upwards of 3000 people. Sometimes I wonder if there isn't some secret competition to see how quickly we can turn America into a third world nation.

If I understand it correctly, the torture was performed by white cops on black suspects. As you can imagine, this has not improved already-strained race relations in one of America's most segregated cities. Along with being terrible police procedure (torture doesn't elicit the truth, and so the innocent are incriminated while the guilty walk free), and abominable violations of people, this torture has set back race relations quite some distance.

But surely, you might protest, now that these allegations have come to light fully and have been proved in numerous circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt -- surely, after four years and $6 million, heads will roll and justice will be served?


No heads will roll. No justice. Nothing.

Why? The statute of limitations has run out.* And so the perpetrators will walk free, the victims will not be given the basic satisfaction of justice, and we will all need to live with our guilty complicity.

(The Guardian has a story on this here, and the Chicago Sun-Times (which does not need registration, I think) has a story here.)

* I don't mean to imply that statutes of limitations are insignificant; I do mean to say that they seem a grave injustice here -- and that in any event, the victims have been terribly disserved by the police and the city. This is no less of a crime or an injustice for having happened 15-35 years ago.


Blogger Gaunilo said...

We love/d Chicago. But the institutionalized corruption is astonishing there - it's simply a joke and a fact taken for granted most of the time there, sadly.

The most disturbing aspect of the city, however (as you say), is its entrenched structural racism: the North side-South side gap. This makes the police tortures even more disturbing in their obvious racial motivation.

Friday, July 21, 2006 3:05:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Young said...

The more disturbing facet of this is the complicit silence of more than just police officers. That the midnight crew and other Cops torture suspects was on open secret. The same thing happens in the MCC to this day.

These types of investigations usually only happen when we get an independent US Attorney like Fitzgerald. The investigation is surprising in that it was a State investigation.

Sunday, July 23, 2006 4:52:00 AM  

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