Editor’s note: Mark Clements spent 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was one of many tortured under former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s reign of terror. Clements is now Chairman of the Wrongful Convictions Committee of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. The following is excerpted from a talk he gave to News and Letters Committees on Feb. 7.
Chicago–It’s amazing to me that prosecutors are just starting to acknowledge torture victims as crime victims. Yet no solution has been reached for 23 men who are still incarcerated who claim to have been tortured. Every Burge victim has the same rights as a crime victim. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to sue Burge but not to compensate us as crime victims. This prolongs the fight and is very tiresome.
I reviewed some of the cases and there is torture in all of them. One of these young men, who has been incarcerated since 1977, was raped with a foreign object.
Today, Madigan filed a law suit about the tortures. Her office serves as the special prosecutor in at least seven of those cases. I don’t understand why she hasn’t waived her opposition to automatic hearings for the 23 men. People need to know where these cases stand. Allowing these cases to be heard in open court would provide a full and fair opportunity to know the evidence.
All of the men who were tortured were targeted because of the community from which they came. These men were deemed guilty before they ever had a trial.
Burge’s sentence is only four and a half years. This is an insult. He was facing 45 years. Yet somehow, behind closed doors and through magic, the number of years went down and down. He had only two years, but the judge doubled it. Before we call a victory, we need to examine the situation.
Burge still gets his pension. This is a further insult. Jon Burge victimized and tortured children. What really disturbs me is the lack of interest in this issue. We need to put a stop to this, not just because it’s African Americans, but because it violates human rights.
Why was the Chicago Police Department able to get away with these tortures? Black cops were shaking down drug dealers and gang-bangers and white cops knew it. Black cops knew white cops were torturing African Americans. Both groups had something on each other, so they couldn’t tell on each other.
What is so tripped out about these Burge tortures is that with all the evidence we have, the system is still fighting these cases. This is a system that we call fair. When it wrongs you, you have to fight like a dog to be compensated. And then you go through hardships. Some of these men are homeless. The government knows about it and doesn’t care. It’s another form of imprisoning them.
Without heat on the government, they pay tax dollars for a prison system that does not work. How can a specialist on prisons not have a solution or a plan or an agenda to rehabilitate inmates?
Sitting in prison you suffer everyday of your life. I was a kid when I entered the system, and I used to hear this death row inmate all the time. He would say that he would be happy when they whack him, meaning kill him. I thought he was crazy. But he was sitting in misery each and every day so he wanted to be eliminated.
On March 16, Burge will hopefully be placed in prison and not this hospital that the judge has recommended, and we will be having a demonstration in front of 26th and California at 11:00 AM. It is a demonstration against all prosecutors who had anything to do with the Burge cases. We need to figure out a way to put some heat on these prosecutors. Those prisoners are in a hopeless situation. I know because I talk to them all the time. That is my job. But if we don’t help these guys, they are going to die in prison.
We the people can change things. But if we don’t fight, they won’t be changed.