WOODLAWN — A virtual archive launched this week dives deep into the abuse of more than 100 Black men led by Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” from the 1970s–1990s.
The Chicago Police Torture Archive, led by Woodlawn-based journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute, went live Wednesday. It features a timeline of the abuse and fallout, interviews with survivors and more than 100,000 documents outlining the officers’ “racist pattern and practice of torture.”
Just one of the numerous survivors featured in the archive is Darrell Cannon, who spent 24 years in prison before being exonerated and released. Before “confessing,” he was subjected to three mock executions and shocked with an electric cattle prod until he screamed repeatedly.
Officers “kept questioning me while [one of them held] that shotgun with the barrel in my mouth,” Cannon said in a video interview. “Then all of the sudden, one of them said, ‘Go ahead, shoot the n—,’ and he pulled the trigger … I told them that I would say anything they wanted me to say.”
The Citizens Police Data Project, which archives decades of misconduct allegations against Chicago police, has also been updated with a network map. The map shows other complaints lodged against Midnight Crew officers and their links to officers beyond the era of Burge-led abuse.
“Police torture is not over in Chicago, and the aftermath of the Burge torture is not over — there are still survivors behind bars fighting their cases,” managing editor Maira Khwaja said. “Our primary hope is that this archive can be useful for attorneys, organizers and survivors who continue to seek justice.”
The torture archive’s launch “is another important step in establishing the true and complete narrative about this systemic and racist torture and coverup,” Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, who has represented numerous torture survivors, said in a statement.
Taylor’s partner at the People’s Law Office, Joey Mogul — who co-founded Chicago Torture Justice Memorials to oversee the construction of a permanent, public memorial as required by a 2015 reparations package — are contributors to the archive.
Also named as a contributor is reporter John Conroy, whose 1990 Chicago Reader feature “House of Screams” was among the first to tell survivors’ stories of officers using electroshock, bolt cutters, suffocation and other forms of torture.
The reparations package passed by City Council included a $5.5 million fund and assistance like free college tuition and counseling services for survivors; a requirement for Chicago Public Schools to teach the torture cases in middle and high school history classes; the development of the Chicago Torture Justice Center; and the agreement to create a memorial, which has not yet been funded by the city more than five years later.
Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993. While he spent more than four years in prison on obstruction of justice and perjury charges, he was never charged for the torture itself as the statute of limitations had passed. He died in 2018.
The archive is a work in progress, and torture survivors with materials to contribute “can get in touch through the site to talk about submitting,” Khwaja said.
Alongside the Invisible Institute’s police data project and in-depth investigation of Chicago Police officer Dillan Halley’s fatal shooting of Harith Augustus, the torture archive reflects the nonprofit’s mission to show “the range of human rights documentations that are possible,” Khwaja said.
“This independent archival work is critical to what we do,” she said.
A virtual launch event co-hosted by the Pozen Center for Human Rights, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and the Invisible Institute will be held at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 15. To register for the event, click here.
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