History of the Reparations Movement

One of the most documented movements to fight police torture and violence occurred in Chicago over the span of 30 years. Under the command of Chicago Police Department (CPD) Commander Jon Burge, over 120 people, predominantly African-American men, were tortured from 1972-1991. Jon Burge and officers under his command, targeted communities of color, kidnapping and torturing individuals producing confessions to crimes not committed. Burge was a Vietnam War Veteran and used war torture interrogation tactics from Operation Phoenix on the survivors,  such as racial epithets, electric shock, suffocation, and brutal beatings. After being forced to give false confessions, the survivors of torture spent years, some decades incarcerated. Public officials at the City, County, and Federal level refused to take action to stop the torture although  concrete evidence documents the torture.. Neither Commander Burge, nor any officer under his command, were criminally charged with torture.  

For decades, the survivors’ family members, lawyers, and community organizers fought to have Burge and his accompanying officers convicted for torture.  Milestones in the fight for justice for the torture survivors include:

  • Four of ten Burge torture survivors on death row had sentences overturned;
  • Community organizers testified at the United Nations Committee Against Torture and they recommended that the U.S. Government bring Burge accompanying perpetrators to justice;
  • Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2010 and served four years in federal prison;
  • In May 2015, Chicago City Council passed a Reparations Ordinance for the Burge police torture survivors and their family members.

As of 2016, twenty Burge torture survivors  have been released from prison and exonerated on the basis of their innocence.  Other victims served their sentences, but continue to suffer the stigma of  wrongful convictions. At least twenty individuals remain incarcerated as a result of convictions, based in whole or in part upon their coerced confessions.  These men have routinely been denied evidentiary hearings to raise the newly discovered evidence of the pattern and practice of torture to corroborate their torture allegations raised decades earlier.  Most of the survivors continue to suffer the psychological effects of the torture they endured, yet they have been without resources, including financial compensation, to obtain psychological treatment prior to the passage of the reparations legislation

Reparations for Chicago Police Torture Survivors

On May 6, 2015, after decades of struggle, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed the Reparations Ordinance proposed by the community based group Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM). Chicago became the first city in the U.S. to provide reparations for racially-motivated police violence. The Reparations Ordinance is one major step in repairing the wrongs committed by the City of Chicago and CPD against the torture survivors and their respective communities.

What Reparations Look Like for Burge Police Torture Survivors
(Image Credit: In These Times)
The ordinance includes:
  1. A formal apology from the Mayor and City Council for the torture and abuse committed by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and police officers under his command;
  2. A permanent public memorial acknowledging the torture committed by Burge and his men;
  3. Inclusion of a lesson in the Chicago Public Schools 8th and 10th grade U.S. History curriculum on the Burge torture cases;
  4. Provision of trauma and other counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and family members at a dedicated facility on the Southside of Chicago;
  5. Free tuition or job training at Chicago’s City Colleges for Burge torture survivors, their family members, including their grandchildren;       
  6. Job placement for Burge torture survivors in programs designated for formerly incarcerated people;
  7. Priority access to City of Chicago’s re-entry support services, including: job training and placement, counseling, food, & transportation assistance, senior care, healthcare, and small business support services;
  8. The creation of a Reparations fund of $5.5 million to provide up to $100,000 to the eligible Burge torture survivors who are still with us today.

Reparations Ordinance

To read the full Reparations Ordinance, click here.



The Chicago Torture Justice Center seeks to address the traumas of police violence and institutionalized racism through access to healing and wellness services, trauma-informed resources, and community connection. The Center is a part of and supports a movement to end all forms of police violence.

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Chicago, IL 60621
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September 21, 2020