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New hope for alleged torture victims in Illinois?

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Aug 31, 2009 - 9:07:18 AM

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Former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge
Legal analysts and human rights activists say the tide may be turning against those who use the authority, the power of law, and the “blue code” of silence for protection as police brutality nationwide is exposed.
CHICAGO ( - Inmates charging torture by police, human rights advocates and legal aid workers have another tool in their fight to prosecute notorious former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge and his alleged cohorts.

Signed into law on Aug. 10 by Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Act calls for the formation of an eight-member commission. The commission will conduct inquiries into torture allegations by those who say they were forced to confess to crimes by former Cmdr. Burge and officers under his command.

The primary sponsor of the bill was state Sen. Kwame Raoul and the bill was drafted by Atty. Standish Willis on behalf of Black People Against Police Torture, a coalition of individuals, groups and lawyers who want Mr. Burge prosecuted and his taxpayer-funded pension revoked. Black People Against Police Torture also wants new trials for alleged imprisoned victims they call the “Burge 24” and financial restitution for them.

“We want to give the torture victims the maximum chance of being heard,” said Atty. Willis.

“We are happy that (Gov. Quinn) signed it,” said Patricia Hill, executive director of the African American Police League, speaking of the new law.

The act is important because many of those languishing in prison have exhausted all rights to hearings and appeals and this law gives them another chance, she explained.

“The next phase is the composition of the commission and the funding, that way we can be effective and we can proceed to try to rectify these sentences of these young men, the torture victims that are still in prison,” said Ms. Hill. She expects Black People Against Police Torture to submit her name to Gov. Quinn as a potential commission member.

According to Atty. Willis, if five or more of the eight commission members determine there is sufficient evidence of torture and coerced confessions, they will ask Timothy C. Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, to assign a judge to review the case.

Legal analysts and human rights activists say the tide may be turning against those who use the authority, the power of law, and the “blue code” of silence for protection as police brutality nationwide is exposed.

Attorney Andrea Lyon, a law professor at DePaul University and expert on the death penalty, criminal law and criminal procedure, said increased awareness and reporting of police brutality has come about largely from ubiquitous cell phones that record video and an increasingly video-monitored society. However, she added, good officers are tired of being tainted by the actions of small groups of rogue cops who make a bad name for those who operate within the rules.

“I think good police officers are sick of getting slammed by the actions of people that are misbehaving,” Atty. Lyon told The Final Call. “Hiding evidence, planting evidence, torturing and threatening people, suborning perjury, that doesn't make anyone feel very safe,” she said.

Atty. Lyon represents Jerry Gillespie, a man currently in prison convicted of murder. Mr. Gillespie says he is innocent, but after encountering Cmdr. Burge's officers, signed a confession after 30 hours of being beaten and interrogated, according to reports.

In sworn testimonies contained in court documents and firsthand accounts, Cmdr. Burge is accused of leading rogue officers who engaged in systematic brutality over a 20-year period, using cattle prods to electric shock the genitals of suspects, and conducting mock executions, suffocations and physical beatings to coerce confessions and to obtain information.

Atty. Willis said the Obama administration needs to be pressured, while local, national and international pressure is needed to increase awareness about police torture.

“We don't want a criminal justice system that is tainted by torture,” said Atty. Willis.

Related links:

Alleged torture victim gets new trial (FCN, 06-01-2009)

Torture: The American Way? (FCN, 05-15-2009)

Farrakhan: Give justice to victims of police torture (FCN, 05-13-2009)