WBEZ | police torture http://www.wbez.org/tags/police-torture Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Torture and theater: Peas in a pod http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/torture-and-theater-peas-pod-99194 <p><p>Torture and theater always have gotten along like two peas in a pod. Take miracle plays, for example, the plays from the High Middle Ages that portray the lives of early Christian saints, with particular emphasis on the gruesome splendors of their martyrdoms. If a saint was skinned alive or spit-roasted over charcoal or vivisected, it gave the Medieval Special Effects Department a chance to shine, and the peasants loved it. From Jesus on down, where would Christianity be without torture?</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/5.%20Martyrdom%20of%20St.%20Apollonia.JPG" style="height: 402px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="The martyrdom of St. Apollonia"></div><p>Shakespeare didn't shy away from torture, either. Just consider old Gloucester having his eyes gouged out in <em>King Lear</em> or Richard II enjoying life in a cesspool—literally—or Lavinia being raped and maimed in <em>Titus Andronicus</em>. And Shakespeare showed tasteful restraint compared to some of his Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporaries.</p><p>For these early dramatic authors, there was absolutely no moral ambiguity about torture, which was legal, accepted and understood as something the powerful could and would use if they saw the need. Besides, it made for a good show, encompassing dramatic conflict and lurid physical action as it did.</p><p>But contemporary theater also is fascinated by torture, well aware that torture still is practiced by many nations (including our own) and non-governmental forces (you know, rebels and the like) even though torture is outlawed by numerous international agreements as well as the constitutions of most nations staking claim to being "civilized." What fascinates contemporary theater is precisely what Medieval, Elizabethan and Jacobean theater didn't question: the moral ambiguity of it.</p><p>This is exactly the territory award-winning journalist-turned-playwright John Conroy has carved out for himself in <em>My Kind of Town</em>, a play based on the ongoing Chicago police torture scandal without actually being either a history play or a documentary drama. Fictionalized from the facts uncovered by Conroy himself more than any other individual, <em>My Kind of Town</em> isn't concerned with the guilt or innocence of Jon Burge or Richard M. Daley, or with the guilt or innocence of the central police torture victim. Rather, it's concerned—as is most contemporary drama about torture—with what kind of person becomes a torturer and who the tortured are, and if torture ever is justified.</p><p>In the play, the wife of the accused detective talks about the sort of person who "is basically good" and the sort of person who "is basically evil" and sometimes it isn't as easy as it should be to tell the difference. Take the ambiguity of the colonel in <em>A Few Good Men</em> (the role played by Jack Nicholson in the film version), who sees himself as a patriot and a frontline defender of America's freedom. The detective in Conroy's play sees himself the same way, and so does his wife for a long time.</p><p>In generally equal numbers, we have as many plays in which the torturer is vicious as plays in which the tortured is vicious. They reflect real-world situations. Answer this one yourself: Is torture acceptable if it leads to information that saves hundreds or even thousands of lives? Should we uphold statutes against torture and allow terrorism to flourish?</p><p>In the last 25 years, some of our most influential playwrights have explored the issues and personalities of torture, among them Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter (<em>One for the Road</em>, 1984), Ariel Dorfman (<em>Death and the Maiden</em>, 1990), Martin McDonagh (<em>The Pillowman</em>, 2003) and Sarah Kane (<em>Cleansed</em>, 1998). More immediately, there have been numerous theater works about real-world torture scenarios in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bosnia.</p><p>Far beyond the context of theater, torture is an issue that will not go away. Almost everywhere it exists, it happens because higher-ups actively condone it or willfully remain in ignorance about it. Torture simply is not sustainable without complicity, and even theater does not always focus on this fundamental fact, although <em>My Kind of Town</em> makes it a central premise.</p><p>To the best of my knowledge, other animals do not torture each other. They attack, maim and kill each other in many ways and for various reasons, but they do not instinctively use pain, or the threat of it, as an instrument of compulsion. Torture, it seems, is found only among the human species, a blessing of sentience and abstract thinking.</p></p> Wed, 16 May 2012 08:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/torture-and-theater-peas-pod-99194 Which hits harder, writing or performance? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/which-hits-harder-writing-or-performance-99180 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/town.jpg" title=""></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/john-conroy-chicago-police-torture-take-centerstage-99121">In our conversation yesterday about <em>My Kind of Town</em></a>, Steve Edwards raised the question why the staged version of Chicago’s police torture scandal affected audiences so much more, and more viscerally, than written accounts of the scandal.&nbsp; There’s the physical presence of theater, of course, in which characters are embodied by real humans who breathe and sweat and pick bits of lint off their clothing, and whether these characters are foul-mouthed criminals or sadistic cops, we can’t help but recognize them as fellow members of our species.&nbsp; And there’s a play’s ability to tell two stories simultaneously and allow the audience to draw parallels and infer equivalences that might not otherwise have occurred to them; while a newspaper story that tries to tell two stories simultaneously will be either a muddle or an exercise in pedantry: first look at this, now look at this, now look back again.<br><br>But there’s a more contemporary reason why encountering the Burge torture case onstage (however concealed) is more powerful than encountering it in newsprint.&nbsp; That’s the technological change which has rendered newspapers nearly obsolete while simultaneously making performances more widely accessible than ever before.<br><br>What is there today that everybody reads the way “everybody” (a wide swath of people of a particular age and social class across the city) read the Chicago <em>Reader</em> in the 1980s?&nbsp; Nothing.&nbsp; Everybody picked up the <em>Reader</em> to get the movie and music listings, if for no other reason, and perhaps the 17th time the cover story was about police torture even the most determinedly obtuse reader might have felt compelled to take a look.&nbsp; But that sort of consensus forum no longer exists, and the consensus fora of the future have yet to make themselves known.&nbsp; So John Conroy’s fine reporting may be being emulated right now by a writer with another terrific (or horrific) story to tell –but only the 12 people who read her blog will know about it.<br><br>Whereas theater, long the most local of art forms, can now be shared worldwide if there’s someone around with a video camera.&nbsp; Actors’ Equity will prevent broadcast for profit of a show in which its members work, but union rules may not cover free broadcast of a matter of significance.&nbsp; If the Metropolitan Opera can present its operas on movie screens, then Chicago theaters can probably share their own creativity with anyone with an Internet connection.<br><br>So there are two questions: why staged work feels so much more intense than written work, and which is more likely to get the kind of widespread concentrated attention that finally brought the police torture scandal to Mayor Daley’s doorstep.&nbsp; The answer to the first question is unchanged from the days of Greek theater (catharsis, anyone?), but the answer to the second is very much in flux.&nbsp; If the theater now has the potential to become the Living Newspaper the WPA people dreamed of, then maybe the media landscape isn’t the howling wilderness we fear.&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 15 May 2012 15:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/which-hits-harder-writing-or-performance-99180 Judge: Daley can still be sued over alleged police torture http://www.wbez.org/story/judge-daley-can-still-be-sued-over-alleged-police-torture-93714 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/archives/images/cityroom/cityroom_20100909_shudzik_1750876_No E_large.png" alt="" /><p><p>Former Mayor Richard M. Daley is one step closer to being deposed in connection with alleged torture by Chicago police. On Wednesday a Federal judge ruled for the second time that Daley can be sued over alleged police torture.</p><p>The former mayor was the Cook County state's attorney back in the 1980s. That's when Michael Tillman was arrested for murder. Tillman says police under former commander Jon Burge tortured him into confessing. He says they put a gun to his head, poured soda in his nose and choked him with a plastic bag.</p><p>Last year Tillman was exonerated after two decades in jail, and then sued several people he says were connected to the torture, ranging from individual officers to Daley.</p><p>In July, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that Daley can be included in Tillman's lawsuit in his capacity as mayor.</p><p>Daley's lawyers appealed, but Wednesday the judge shot them down again. Tillman's lawyers reportedly hope to question the former mayor as soon as next month.</p></p> Thu, 03 Nov 2011 12:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/judge-daley-can-still-be-sued-over-alleged-police-torture-93714 Judge: Daley can be named in lawsuit over police torture http://www.wbez.org/story/judge-daley-can-be-named-lawsuit-over-police-torture-90337 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/JonBurge_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A judge has ruled former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley can be named in a lawsuit alleging police torture under former Commander Jon Burge.</p><p>Former Mayor Daley was the Cook County State's Attorney in 1986 when Michael Tillman was arrested for killing Betty Howard. Tillman said police put a gun to his head, poured 7-Up into his nose and suffocated him with a plastic bag until he confessed to the murder.</p><p>In 2010, after spending more than 20 years in prison, Tillman was exonerated and he subsequently sued several people he alleges were involved in the torture, ranging from the individual officers to Daley.</p><p>In a July decision, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled for the first time that Daley can be included in Tillman's lawsuit. She ruled that Daley is immune from lawsuits from his time as State's Attorney. She writes that she's uncertain Tillman "has alleged any extreme or outrageous conduct on the part of Mr. Daley as Mayor." Pallmeyer writes in her decision that she would welcome more court filings on that matter.</p><p>Several other people have also claimed they were tortured by Chicago police officers serving under Jon Burge. Burge is currently in prison for lying about the torture.</p></p> Wed, 10 Aug 2011 12:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/judge-daley-can-be-named-lawsuit-over-police-torture-90337 Chicagoans plan monument to victims of police torture http://www.wbez.org/story/chicagoans-plan-monument-victims-police-torture-88306 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-April/2011-04-05/CPD Flickr Thomas Hawk.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago attorneys and activists are planning a monument to memorialize the victims of police torture.</p><p>The group is asking artists to submit proposals for the monument. Group members say their goal is "to honor the survivors of torture, their family members, and the African American communities affected by the torture."</p><p>The launch for the project is set for Tuesday at the Hull House in Chicago.</p><p>The launch will include attorneys who've represented police torture victims and a man who says Chicago police tortured him into confessing to murder.</p><p>For decades, scores of suspects - most of them young black men - have claimed Chicago police beat, kicked and shocked them into giving confessions.</p><p>Former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge was convicted last year of lying about torture.</p></p> Fri, 24 Jun 2011 16:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicagoans-plan-monument-victims-police-torture-88306 Burge gets good news as he heads into sentencing http://www.wbez.org/story/area-2/burge-gets-good-news-he-heads-sentencing <p><p>Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge is scheduled to be in court Thursday for sentencing, and a ruling Wednesday gives him reason to be hopeful.&nbsp; He was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury and pre-sentencing report by a probation officer recommends sentencing considerations for those crimes start at about a year and a half and Judge Joan Lefkow agrees.</p><p>Prosecutors argued that the starting point for sentencing considerations should be closer to 30 years because of what Burge was lying about.&nbsp; They say Burge was involved in and knew about police officers who tortured confessions out of suspects in the 1970s and 1980s.&nbsp; But in a ruling Wednesday, Judge Joan Lefkow sided with Burge's defense attorneys that the appropriate place to start is the 15 to 21 month range.<br /><br />Defense attorneys will argue that Burge was a good policeman who worked hard and should therefore be given a sentence on the low end, or even below the range.&nbsp; Prosecutors will list off aggravating factors and request a longer prison term.&nbsp; The hearing is expected to go two days, so Burge probably won't be sentenced until some time Friday.<br /><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 20 Jan 2011 01:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/area-2/burge-gets-good-news-he-heads-sentencing Burge trial: The commander sells his story http://www.wbez.org/blog/burge-trial-commander-sells-his-story <p><a href="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Burge-May-24-2010273.jpg"><img class="size-full wp-image-26774" title="Burge May 24 2010273" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Burge-May-24-2010273.jpg" alt="" width="500" height="344" /></a><code><div></div></code> On the witness stand yesterday morning, former police commander Jon Burge did his best to present himself as a man who was master of a difficult job in difficult times. Yes, there had been hundreds of murders on his watch at Area 2. Yes, he'd dueled with the El Rukns and the Gangster Disciples and a variety of smaller gangs. Yes, drugs and guns and violence were the order of the day. But he was tough, willing to tell the jury, in frank, cop language, how he played things with suspects. ("I told him, "ËœI'm not going to blow smoke up your rear end.'") And he was a master of detail.<!--break--> Asked what high school he went to, he didn't say "Bowen," but "James H. Bowen, 2710 East 89th Street." He was precise on dates. He recalled what seemed minor aspects of cases, casually mentioning, for example, that when Andrew Wilson was arrested, there was a mail carrier in the station who had provided information. (He left out a detail or two in that account: The postal worker was Doris Miller, 45, a neighbor of the Wilsons', who had never been arrested before, and who later testified that she had been handcuffed to a windowsill in an interview room, was denied access to a toilet for about 14 hours, and ultimately had to relieve herself in an ashtray in front of a man also confined in the room.) He showed the jury he could laugh at himself (after they saw footage of a 1982 press conference where a trim Burge with red hair stood behind the police superintendent, the commander noted that his hair was a bit different then -- it is now as white as snow -- and that he was a few pounds lighter (I'm guessing upwards of 75 pounds lighter). And he cried, once when describing a briefing just before cop-killer Andrew Wilson was arrested, and a second time, as the noon break approached, he was near tears as well. In the afternoon, under cross examination, he got testier. "I have said that to you about four times, counselor," he snapped at prosecutor David Weisman. He said he'd only heard of the possible existence of a "code of silence" on the police force a few years ago from "a bottom-feeding lawyer." He demanded more of the jury, asking that they believe that he wanted to make sure cop-killer Andrew Wilson was "treated in the nicest possible way" after his arrest for the brutal murder of two Irish American police officers. In the morning, he'd told the jury he was the kind of supervisor who would often peak into an interrogation room to monitor his detectives, but in the Wilson case, which may have been the most important case of his career, he told the jury he'd hardly seen Wilson after his arrest, and certainly not after an afternoon lineup. (Wilson describes an electric shock session, and even the assistant state's attorney who took Wilson's confession, testifying in the 1992 Police Board hearings, put Burge in the interview room with Wilson immediately after the statement -- though the jury doesn't know that as it hasn't come into evidence. The assistant state's attorney has taken the Fifth.) Burge asked that the jury believe that Anthony Holmes, a man he identified as the "barn boss" in prison, the "toughest guy in the penitentiary," was "quite cooperative" from the get-go after his arrest. All it took, the former commander said, was a brief interview in which Burge and a homicide detective pointed out Holmes's predicament, and after that the renowned tough guy gave a statement more than 60 pages long, implicating himself and a good number of his friends, confessing to a series of violent crimes, some of which the Area 2 detectives didn't know had been committed. (At the outset of the trial, Holmes told a harrowing tale of electric shock and suffocation at Burge's hands.) Burge's department commendation for the Holmes arrest, briefly displayed yesterday, praised his "skilful questioning." Burge seemed to want the jury to believe he was highly competent, a man you'd want to have in charge, and yet something of a bumbler when dealing with a lawsuit that might cause him severe financial damage. At the outset of that lawsuit, he was asked in written interrogatories if he had ever used a long list of abusive practices, some of them clear (the use of "firearms, telephone books, typewriter covers, radiators, or machines that deliver electric shock" to inflict pain, suffering or fear) and some of them considerably less so ("the use of photographs or polygraph testing" as a form of verbal or physical coercion). In his answer he objected to the question (number 13 on the list), as "overly broad, unduly vague, and ambiguous" and calling for a legal conclusion, but he went on to say, "I am not aware of any." Yesterday, he wanted the jury to believe that because he didn't understand the vague clauses, he shouldn't be taken to task for denying the ones that a child could understand. "What is your understanding of question 13?" his attorney asked. "Beats me," Burge said. The most difficult selling job came late in the day, when prosecutor Weisman asked Burge about his confrontation with the armed robber Shadeed Mu'min in 1985. On Monday, former Area 2 detective Michael McDermott, given immunity from prosecution, described seeing Burge put something transparent over Mu'min's face, and Mu'min took the stand on Tuesday and described being suffocated with a typewriter cover three times. Yesterday, Burge praised McDermott as an "excellent police officer and a very good detective." Weisman asked if there was anything that a reasonable person could have misconstrued had they witnessed the incident, anything that a reasonable person could have mistakenly believed was Burge putting plastic over a man's face. "I don't believe so," Burge said. But he offered the jury the possibility that McDermott was making it up to meet the demands of prosecutors. "He appeared to me that he was terribly distraught and under tremendous pressure." McDermott's past is littered with cases in which he was alleged to have abused suspects. Juries have acquitted men who allegedly confessed to him. Confessions he has taken have been suppressed by Cook County judges, impressed by allegations that they were coerced. He is probably quite familiar with "tremendous pressure." But the jury doesn't know that. The extent of McDermott's checkered career hasn't been displayed.</p> Fri, 18 Jun 2010 09:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/burge-trial-commander-sells-his-story