House of Screams

by  Assistant Editor

For over two decades, up to 200 African American men were tortured and abused at the hands of former Chicago Police Detective Jon Burge and other law enforcers, according to a recently released criminal report by special federal investigators.

Like something out of a bad, scary movie, one former prisoner after another told their horror stories in the 292-page Burge report. They told investigators how they were tortured and humiliated at the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 lock up, then located at 91st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, from the 1970s through the 1980s.
After a four-year investigation which cost millions of dollars, the special federal prosecutors handling the case announced the results on a hot day in mid-July. They confirmed reports that actual torture of inmates occurred at the hands of Burge and other police officers at the time. Burge was fired from the police force for misconduct in 1991. But the special prosecutors stated at a press conference when they released the report that no criminal charges could be filed against Burge or any of the other police officers who tortured people because the statute of limitations had expired.

There is no justice in this case, according to Ulysses “U.S.” Floyd, one of Burge’s torture victims. Over a two-month period, I talked to Floyd and another former inmate who were listed as victims in the Burge report. Both said they suffered abuse at the hands of Burge and his “lynch mob” of police officers during their stay at the jailhouse they both labeled “The House of Screams.”

A protester holds a sign encouraging Mayor Richard M. Daley to do something about the police abuse by officers of the Chicago Police Department during the August rally at the Daley Plaza against a recently released report on the investigation of former Comman der Jon Burge and other officers. Photo by Beauty Turner

“They should be prosecuted and held accountable for what they did, and there shouldn’t be no limitations on what they did, ” Floyd said in August. “They violated people’s rights. How can there be a statute of limitations on that? They let the time lapse.”

The prior month, Floyd recounted his story as being one of the victims of Burge in the early ’80s. At the time, Floyd was a South Side gang leader whose criminal activities stemmed from 90th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue to 95th Street and Halsted Street, and which sometimes spilled over to 111th Street.

“I remember Jon Burge because no matter what seemed to happen in those areas, he came to get me,” Floyd said.

Floyd currently works with Ceasefire, a Chicago-based violence prevention program that counsels current gang members 15 to 24 years old at the Woodlawn Organization. He said that Burge, “a short, stubby little white man,” made up for his height by using his position as a police detective to torture young and old Black men, and making them confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

“He had me handcuffed for 72 hours trying to get me to confess to a triple murder that I didn’t commit. He would take me to Area 2 Criminal Homicide Division and torture me by handcuffing me to a chair and putting a Jewel [food store] plastic bag over my head and laughing as I gagged for air to catch my breath,” Floyd said in a raised voice during a June 8 phone interview.

“That wasn’t all he did. He had two guns. One was a real big gun, maybe a .357 Magnum. He said to me, ‘this is for shooting n—–s,’ and he showed me the other gun that was much smaller. ‘This one is for shooting white folks,'” Floyd went on to say.

“He would sometimes come and get me in the depths of winter when it was freezing cold outside and handcuff my hands to the bars on the outside of a window in one of those interrogation rooms,” Floyd exclaimed.

While in lockup at Area 2, Floyd added that on one occasion, Burge took his clothes from him and left him buck naked with a window wide open, exposing him to the cold air, which he said woke him up every time he tried to go to sleep.

“He left me that way for 72 hours,” Floyd said.

I could hear in his voice that I was bringing back painful memories of his encounters with Burge.

“The report will show that they didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the torture that Jon Burge inflicted on African American men,” Floyd added.

When you talk about justice being blind, in Black communities, I think that is an understatement. What do you think?

Mayor Richard M. Daley was Cook County State’s Attorney at the time of the alleged torture of the prisoners by Burge and other law enforcers. These allegations were brought to his attention on Feb. 25, 1982, by former Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek. Yet nothing ever became of the allegations under Daley’s watch.

David Bates, listed as another torture victim in the Burge report, told me in June that he was a teenager at the time that he encountered Burge in October 1983. Bates said he and Gregory Banks, a former resident of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Trumbull Lowden Homes, were picked up and charged with a murder that they were later exonerated for in November 1996. Bates described to me how he suffered at Burge’s hands.

“Jon Burge gave out five sections of torture. First of all, it began with a series of slaps, kicks and name calling and the last two that he did was put a plastic bag over my head all while threatening me with death along with hitting me in my chest until I passed out,” Bates said.

A protester holds a sign of Aaron Patterson, a documented torture victim of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, during a rally at the Daley Plaza, against a recently released report on the investigation of the charges against Burge and other CPD officers. Photo by Beauty Turner

Bates also said that Banks, who was 20 years old at the time, told him while they were incarcerated together that Burge threatened him with death if Banks didn’t confess to the crime.

“Banks told me that Burge put a loaded gun in his mouth and drove him around the station ordering him to confess,” Bates said.

Bates said the Burge report shows that aldermen as well as other city officials in addition to Mayor Daley knew for over four decades what Jon Burge was doing to African American men in Area 2 headquarters, but did nothing.

“Instead of doing something about it, they would rather hide this scandal from public view,” Bates said. “How could they continue to sweep this corruption under the rug and hide it for over four decades totaling over 2 to 3 millions dollars if not more?”

Bates added that the aldermen should have acted earlier in handling these cases by calling on investigations, stopping the pensions of the police officers charged, and stopping the payments of the attorneys for the police officers charged.

“Not just in the interest of the victims of the Burge case but in the interest of the taxpayers, period. The police are protected by the Fraternal Order of Police and the City Council. Those two entities have always paid for the attorneys for the police who are accused of torturing the 192 African American men,” Bates said during a phone interview in August.

Bates, a community activist working with the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bills of Rights, said the group introduced an ordinance to the City Council over a year ago that could protect citizens from police brutality and make police account able. But Bates said nothing had been done about it.

After two appeals and the completion of his 11-year sentence, Bates won his appeal for a new trial, which resulted in his total conviction being overturned due to insufficient evidence. Bates said that “the only evidence [provided in the new trial] was the forced confession to the police.”

After release from prison, Bates said that he and his codefendant in the murder case took the police department to court and won their lawsuit for “wrongful imprisonment,” which was settled in 1996 for “under $100,000.”

“We only had the wrongful conviction,” Bates explained. “The issue of torture was denied to the majority of victims because we had a lack of evidence that we were not able to bring the claim of torture,” he said.

The Burge report didn’t even scratch the surface of what was really taking place back then. Many advocates against police brutality are wondering why Jon Burge is still receiving a pension after being given a pink slip from his civil service job in 1991 for police misconduct. Flint Taylor, a civil rights lawyer, is investigating this matter, according to Standish Willis, another civil rights attorney. After reading the Jon Burge report myself, I have come to the conclusion that the struggle in the African American community continues. What do you think?

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