The message in the Burge sentence

February 8, 2011

It will be a tragedy if Jon Burge finishes his jail sentence from the Chicago police torture scandal and leaves prison while any of his victims remain behind bars.

I WAS very disappointed that U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge to only four and a half years in prison on January 21.

It felt like he received a slap on the wrist for all the pain and suffering and mayhem he caused in so many lives and in the African-American community. We deserve every bit of those 30 years that the prosecutors requested.

Before handing down the sentence, Judge Lefkow told Burge that she didn't believe his denials of torture. And she also harshly criticized local, county, state and federal officials for not taking actions sooner. "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 paid could have been avoided."

I've long said that it was because of the actions and inactions of the past state's attorneys--Richard M. Daley (who became mayor of Chicago), Cecil Partee, Jack O'Malley and Dick Devine--that this scandal ballooned to the largest police corruption scandal in U.S. history.

Columnist: Stanley Howard

Stanley Howard is a former Illinois death row prisoner who was exonerated and pardoned by former Gov. George Ryan in 2003. He was a victim of police torture carried out by Chicago police, and from behind bars, he formed the Death Row 10 with other victims of torture. Though still imprisoned unjustly, Stanley works with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and writes regularly for its newsletter, the New Abolitionist. You can write to him at: Stanley Howard N-71620, 2600 N. Brinton Ave., Dixon, IL 61021.

They all either lied, denied, ignored, covered up, turned a blind eye to or claimed ignorance about this scandal to obtain and maintain scores of wrongful and tainted convictions. This practice continues today with the current state's attorney Anita Alvarez, and the special prosecutor appointed to all of the Burge post-conviction cases, retired judge Stuart A. Nudleman.

Even special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle (may they both rest in peace) tried to cover up the scandal by hiding behind the stature of limitations. Egan and Boyle could have charged Burge and his cronies with many counts of attempted murder, heinous battery, conspiracy, etc. And they could have exposed how the state's attorney's office was knowingly complicit in this scandal for over 30 years, instead of claiming there was only some "slippage."

After over 20 years of complaining and begging for a federal investigation, the U.S. attorney's office finally brought perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Burge in 2008 for lying under oath about the torture.

"I think it's important to send a message to people that this sort of thing doesn't happen in a civilized society," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said after the sentence. "Justice should have come sooner, but justice delayed isn't justice completely denied." Fitzgerald stated that the investigation isn't over.

The fact that Burge is going to prison at all is a true testament of the unbending will and years of hard work put forth, collectively, by activists, lawyers, torture victims and our families.

But it's sad that Burge could go to prison and get out, and scores of his victims will still be incarcerated screaming for justice.

Daley recently served as guest speaker at a ceremony where Anita Alvarez swore in 23 new assistant state's attorneys. Daley, who served as state's attorney from 1981 to 1989, spoke to the new prosecutors about professionalism and the responsibilities in their new careers.

Keeping it Real, I wonder if that speech had anything to do with his involvement in the torture scandal, or how he wrongfully sent many prisoners to prison and death row bases on confessions he knew were obtained though torture.

First published in the New Abolitionist.

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