Jailing Jon Burge

By: Mark Clements

Mark Clements reacting to the conviction of Burge last June. Credit: Zbigniew Bzdak/Tribune

Numbness and disbelief was the reaction of some activists on hearing the news that Jon Burge would be sentenced to only four-and-a-half years in prison for lying about the tortures he participated in and ordered detectives working under his command to carry out. Burge had been found guilty in July 2010 of three counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for denying in a civil lawsuit that he did not know about tortures or abuse.

Many of us felt four-and-a-half years was not enough jail time, given the scale of the abuse he conducted and oversaw. At the same time, we recognize the only reason Burge is going to prison at all is because of years of activism around this issue. And this fact needs to be underscored. My mother, who now suffers from brain cancer, worked alongside Campaign activists for years keeping this issue alive.

On January 21, a packed courtroom listened as federal judge Joan Lefkow described a broken criminal justice system which allowed Burge to continue his torture ring against African American and Latino suspects.

Burge is known to have commanded and ordered the brutal beatings and torture of over 144 men as an employee of the Chicago Police Department from 1972 until 1993. Before sentencing Burge made an emotional plea that he was not a racist, telling the judge that he had African American friends who were employees of the police department. “I am not a racist, I am not the person that the plaintiff lawyers have tried to make me out to be,” Burge said.

As a commander with the police department, Burge oversaw 64 detectives, all white, who committed unthinkable acts of torture. Those of us inside the courtroom heard Judge Leftko tell Burge she did not believe him when he denied at his trial last summer any knowledge of torture.

Burge could not be tried for the actual tortures because the statute of limitation has expired.

Every case involving Chicago police torture exhibits major flaws, ranging from ineffective assistance of counsel to overzealous prosecutors who hid evidence from defense lawyers. Burge and his detectives systematically falsified evidence or fabricated DNA testing through crime lab technicians employed by the Chicago police department.

What is strikingly similar about all the Chicago police torture cases is that the prime evidence was tortured confessions. Judge after judge heard these men describe their torture, and yet each judge let those confessions stand as evidence.

I sat inside the courtroom listening to Judge Lefkow read from notes that she prepared for this sentencing, “How I wish there had not been such a dismal failure of leadership in the police department that it came to this,” Lefkow said. “If others, such as the United States Attorney and the Cook County State’s Attorney, had given heed long ago, so much pain could have been avoided”.

As I attempted to listen carefully, I could not help but see the faces of some incarcerated Burge victims who I left behind when I was freed in August 2009. I envisioned men such as Stanley Wrice, Stanley Howard, Grayland Johnson, Eric Caine, Daniel Vaughn, Leonard Hinton, Robert Allen, Virgil Robinson, Leonard Kidd, James Gibson, Gerald Reed and Javan Deloney.

These are men whom I promised to attempt to free from the hellish life of prison. Each of these men has spent over two decades confined inside Illinois prisons despite evidence, which would suggest they are innocent. While at the same time, Burge and most of his detectives have been enjoying a luxurious lifestyle in retirement, able to be amid family and friends, and to proceed with their lives. Burge resides in a luxurious Florida home, while I had to reside among rats and roaches inside a prison cell for 28 years of my life with these men.

 The very thought of Burge receiving a lighter sentence than the 45 years which he faced overwhelmed me. It outraged me to the very core. “Where is justice?” I said to myself as tears rolled down my eyes and frustration overtook my emotions. What about the 23 torture victims still in prison?

I relived being 16 years old, chained to a wall inside a closet-sized interrogation room. I was beat and had my genitals squeezed until it felt as if my head was about to pop off my body. I screamed and hollered, but I was at the mercy of my attacker. I was called a nigger and little nigger motherfucker so many times that I began to think that was my name.

U.S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald walked inside the courtroom with an army of federal prosecutors. He sat directly in back of me; silent as Judge Lefkow accused his office of ignoring the conduct of Burge until it was too late to prosecute him. She went on to describe a broken system that failed the men who were tortured, and that openly allowed for Burge and his ring of tortuous cops to operate much longer then it should have.

I repeatedly found myself having to calm down and attempt to focus while going through psychological attacks as I envisioned my own torture over and over in my head.

Burge is getting 54 months–this is a slap in the face. Men had been brutally beaten, had electric shocks put to their genitals, guns placed in the mouth or pointed at their heads, suffocations with typewriter covers, beatings with phone books—some had their heads jammed inside toilet blows, genitals grabbed and squeezed, some raped with unknown objects in their anal area, some tossed out of police station windows, and each man called racist names –all in the name of the law, all to gain confessions.

As I walked out of the courtroom, an army of news reporters met me on the first floor of the federal courthouse. I told them I was outraged because at age 16, I was tortured and they covered it up. I spent 28 years inside a prison; I lost 28 years of my daughter’s 29 years of life

U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald conducted a news conference and told the media that he was pleased with the outcome, “Justice delayed is not justice denied”. When questions were directed to Fitzgerald by members of the media, I shouted out at Fitzgerald, “When will you announce the next round of indictments against the detectives that also lied in the court documents which led to Burge’s indictment and prosecution.” He responded, “The investigation will continue, but indictments are unlikely.” I called the Fitzgerald investigation a “whitewash” and “cover-up” and left the court building.

Burge was ordered to surrender to a federal hospital or prison on March 16, 2011, by Judge Lefkow.


 On January 27, during an unannounced Chicago Police Pension Board hearing, Jon Burge was allowed to keep his more than $3,000 dollar-a-month police pension. The vote was 5-4. None of the activists or attorneys opposing Burge pension were notified of this hearing.

In July 2010, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Jail Jon Burge Coalition met with the police pension board president and several members. We were promised that if we left our names and contact information, we would be notified when the Burge pension hearing was to be held, and we would be entitled to testify at that hearing. But we were never notified. Burge should not have been allowed to keep his pension under Illinois law since he is now a convicted felon.

On March 16, 2011, at 2600 S. California Ave (Cook County Courthouse) at 11 a.m., there will be a rally and news conference. Save this date and come out to join us as we seek justice for all Chicago Police torture victims. Contact Mark at [email protected] or 773-955-4841.

I applaud the little people

Comments from Marvin Reeves on the day after Burge were sentenced. Marvin is a Burge torture victim who spent 21 years wrongfully incarcerated in Illinois prisons.

They said it wouldn’t make a difference. I beg to differ, though. Yesterday, we struck a mighty blow. I applaud all the people who did the hard work. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty and others fought a hard fight.

They said that it’s worthless. Again, I beg to differ. Jon Burge got sentenced yesterday, and I always say that if you spend a day in jail, it will change your life, for the rest of your life. He has to do four-and-a-half years, three years on

probation, and now a convicted felon. They say it’s not enough time. I say it’s a lifetime, because he has to live with what he did, and he will be scarred for the rest of his life.

Believe me when I tell you a man’s dignity means more to him than anything. And Burge’s dignity is out the window, over with. If he lives past his four-and-a- half years, he’ll have to live with that.

We fought a hard fight. It’s a small victory but a good victory.

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