By Frederick H. Lowe
The Chicago Public Schools will begin teaching students about police brutality as part of a $5.5 million reparations package agreed to by city officials and various civil rights groups in 2015.
The classes will discuss cases handled by disgraced former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge who was accused torturing 125 black men into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit between 1972 and 1991, according to Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and the People’s Law Office, two of the groups involved in forcing a settlement.
The lesson plan is called the “Burge Reparations Curriculum.”
Burge served 4½ years in prison for lying about torture but not for torturing black men. The police department fired him in 1993.
Burge and his so-called “midnight crew” administered electric shock, held mock executions, caused near suffocation, and carried out beatings to make black men confess to crimes they didn’t commit.
The Chicago Public Schools, the city of Chicago, African-American activists and the Chicago Police Department worked together before deciding on a curriculum.
“After working for months with African-American community leaders, civil rights advocates, law enforcement, academic researchers and the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department unveiled a curriculum to teach 8th and 10th graders about Jon Burge along with officers working under his command,” CPS officials wrote in a news release.
The 8th and the 10th grade curriculum is called “Reparations won: A case study in police torture, racism and the movement for justice in Chicago.”
“The torture and other abuses committed by Burge and officers under his command are a disgrace to the city and to the hard-working men and women of the Chicago Police Department. To remind the city of the injustices that occurred and to ensure that they are not repeated, the city will acknowledge and educate the public about this dark chapter in Chicago’s history,” said CPS’s opening paragraph.
Curriculum for 8th graders asks students if they have had any personal experiences with the police and what they would do to design a police department. The curriculum is 89 pages. Students are required to write an op-ed about police brutality.
The curriculum for 10th grade students includes questions about how police torture affected families and how the community responded. The high school curriculum is 101 pages, including an index. High school students are asked to design a memorial to victims of police brutality.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the classes are necessary.
“Only by facing history directly and honestly can we heighten understanding of this dark period and increase our ability to confront its challenges. This curriculum was created thoughtfully and collaboratively, and I am confident it be meaningful, impactful and educational experience for students cross Chicago Public Schools,” Mayor Emanuel said.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson recorded a video to speak to students
When the approval of the Reparations Ordinance was announced, 98 men applied for the money, said city officials. Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and Prof. Daniel T. Coyne, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, reviewed the claims. They were sent to Chicago’s Law Department. Claims the law department did not approve were arbitrated by David Coar, a former U.S. District Court judge.
Darrell Cannon, a Burge torture victim who spent 24 years and five months in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, participated in the settlement. Police arrested him in 1983 and prosecutors dropped charges against him in 2004.
Through tears and cheers, Cannon testified at Chicago City Council, telling the audience how Burge’s men tortured him by applying an electric cattle prod to his genitals.
Some of the men Burge tortured are still in prison and while others have disappeared.
Burge and his crew’s testimony sent 10 men to death row. They remained there until 2003 when Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted their sentences. Gov. Ryan halted executions three years earlier after courts ruled that 13 men on death row had been wrongfully convicted.
Chicago City Council approved the sweeping reparations package that also includes an official apology from the city of Chicago and a permanent memorial recognizing the victims of police torture. Chicago also will provide other services to Burge victims and their families, including free tuition to attend Chicago City Colleges, psychological counseling, and job training.
Six Chicago Public Schools piloted the curriculum last year to ensure it would be engaging and appropriate for students. Torture survivors also visited classrooms to tell their stories and to answer questions.
The Chicago Public Schools is the nation’s third-largest school system with 381,000 students enrolled in 652 schools.