Burge Torture Survivors Seek Support For Counseling, Public Memorial

police torture memorial design exhibit
In 2019, an exhibit at the Washington Park Arts Incubator showcased six design proposals for a public memorial to survivors of Chicago police torture. A reparations package approved by city officials in 2015 called for the memorial, but it has yet to be erected. Arionne Nettles / WBEZ News
police torture memorial design exhibit
In 2019, an exhibit at the Washington Park Arts Incubator showcased six design proposals for a public memorial to survivors of Chicago police torture. A reparations package approved by city officials in 2015 called for the memorial, but it has yet to be erected. Arionne Nettles / WBEZ News

Burge Torture Survivors Seek Support For Counseling, Public Memorial

For two decades, Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his crew tortured black and brown men.

In 2015, city officials passed a sweeping reparations package that led to the establishment of a mental health clinic for survivors and their families and called for a public memorial.

But torture survivors and activists worry the city isn’t upholding its end of the bargain. The clinic is in need of additional resources and there’s still no public memorial.

“We’re hoping for what we asked for,” said Anthony Holmes, a survivor of Burge torture.

The Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC), located in Englewood, offers individual and group therapy. Sixty percent of its budget comes from the city. Previously, the city provided the clinic with a three-year grant to the tune of $287,000 each year. More recently, clinic officials asked for $500,000 and were surprised to only receive a one-year grant at $287,000.

Executive director Aislinn Pulley said the demand for services has gone up.

“Sustainability is always our main concern,” she said.

This year, CTJC officials want to expand a music program and a book club, and they plan to forge a new partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to create a pop-up exhibition. The clinic is also open to anyone who has experienced police violence.

“We know that the traumatic effects of PTSD are lifelong and generational,” Pulley said. “We’re hoping that if there is any interruption in funding that’s a short-term issue, and this will be a service the city permanently provides for.”

“As long as we have issues with policing,” Pulley continued, “there will be issues of healing that need to be addressed.”

In 2015, the Chicago City Council passed a historic reparations ordinance for survivors of police torture under the hand of Burge. Reparations is more than money, an apology and counseling services. It’s free city college tuition for survivors and their families, and it’s a unit for Chicago Public Schools students to learn about the dark saga.

The final component is a public memorial that has yet to be erected in the city. A team selected a design last year by Patricia Nguyen and John Lee, a circular memorial with survivor names.

“[The memorial] will show what happened to us and explain what took place with law enforcement and the wrong that they did,” said Holmes, who spent decades in prison after falsely confessing to a murder he didn’t commit.

In 1973, while in police custody, Holmes found himself in the back of a police investigation room. Burge put a plastic bag over his head and used an electrical shock box, which he dubbed the “nigger box,” to blast him.

“We’re not trying to put the city down. It’s a part of history. This took place and it happened in Chicago. They got away with it so long,” Holmes said.

In a statement, the city said it is committed to working with torture survivors and fullfilling all aspects of the reparations ordinance: “As part of that, we will review any and all proposals for a memorial that honors the victims of injustice, and we remain committed to working with CTJC to secure a location for such a historically important monument.”

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @natalieymoore.